Austin Lee


Las Vegas born, Austin Lee (b. 1983) is an American artist based in New York. Lee developed a distinctive style of colourful paintings which hovers between physical and digital realities. He combines digital technologies with airbrush and paintbrush techniques to create uncanny and humorous figures, fusing Pop Art, Surrealism and Abstraction. 

“Lee’s portraits of happy-go-lucky humanoids, painted in various shades of Day-Glo, can only come from the imagination of someone not yet corrupted by the cynical forces of fine detail. For the bedraggled masses, his rainbow wheel squiggly-faces and winking flowers offer a chemical-free high. Thanks to Lee’s proficiency in Photoshop, and with the airbrush, his work retains a quality of digitized amateurism. Texture, both in his paintings and his fiber resin sculptures, is slathered on in thick, fuzzy, joyfully gloppy layers reminiscent of the large brush tool in Microsoft Paint.” Sarah Nechamkin, Interview Magazine, 2019.

Describing himself as “a computer nerd as well as an artist”, Austin Lee explores the intersections of technology and reality.  Lee illustrates the experience of the digital screen through the physical mediums of painting and sculpture. Inspired by mundane events and aesthetics, many of his works evoke the emojis and digital idioms that have become part of our daily visual vocabulary.  “I try to mix the best of the digital and the physical, because I think both do things well in different ways”, Austin says (in conversation with Kristen Tauer, WWD Magazine, 2019).

Lee’s creative process entails producing the artwork initially in virtual reality and later materialising it as paintings, sculptures and installations. His whimsical paintings are based on digital sketches and then painted on canvas with airbrush and paintbrush. The result are animated figures depicted with simple forms, vivid primary colours and flattened spatial depth. These surreal bodies seem to weightlessly burst out of the two dimensional canvas towards a three dimensional cartoon-like domain.  

Austin Lee’s iconic works include the ‘Floral Paintings’, which celebrate the simplicity, liveliness and universality of this familiar iconography. Austin renders the flowers with simplified uniformity, creating a powerful metaphor for the importance of community and the interdependence of man and nature in our globalised yet often alienated society. The potency of the flower as a recurring metaphorical motif in art history resonates with the words of Japanese poet Matsuo Basho: “There is nothing that you can see that is not a flower; there is nothing you can think that is not the moon”.

Born in Las Vegas in 1983, Austin Lee received his MFA from Yale in 2013. He currently lives and works in New York City. 

Carl Kostyál has presented Austin Lee’s works in numerous solo and group exhibitions, starting from his debut solo show ‘Mixed Feelings’ at Carl Kostyál Gallery, London in 2014.  Other solo presentations of his work with Carl Kostyál include: No Fair, Isbrytaren, Stockholm (2015); ’MeArt’, Kaleidoscope, Milan (2015); ‘Anxiety’, New Galerie, Paris (2016); ‘Pretty Pictures’, UTA Artist Space, Los Angeles (2016); Alight’, Maison Assouline, London (2017);Constant Joy’, Besiktas, Istanbul (2018); ‘Paradise’, Spazio Maiocchi, Milan (2019).

Austin Lee has been featured by Carl Kostyál Gallery in the followings group shows: ‘For Pete’s Sake, Carl Kostyál Stockholm, Sweden (2016);  ‘Summer Show’, Carl Kostyál Stockholm, Sweden (2017); ‘Malmö Sessions’, Ystadvägen 22, Malmö, Sweden (2019); ‘Stockholm Dinner Sessions’, Stockholm, Sweden (2019) . Lee also participated in the following artist residency organised by Carl Kostyál: ‘Inaugural Artist Residency at Fontana di Vite’, Masseria Fontana di Vite, Matera, Italy (2018); ‘Coccaro on Paper’, Masseria Torre Coccaro, Puglia, Italy (2018).

On the occasion of the exhibition of Lee’s solo presentation ‘Paradise’, held in November – December 2019 at Spazio Maiocchi, Milan, Carl Kostyál and KALEIDOSCOPE co-published the book “Austin Lee, 2012-2019”. Austin Lee has also collaborated with Carl Kostyál in the production of several editions of artist prints.

Austin Lee has presented solo exhibitions at Peres Projects, Berlin; Deitch Projects, New York; Kaikai Kiki, Tokyo; BANK, Shanghai; Mine Project, Hong Kong; and New Galerie, Paris. He has featured internationally in group shows at Peres Projects, Berlin; Deitch Projects, New York and M Woods Museum, Beijing. In March 2020, M Woods Museum in Beijing hosted Austin Lee’s first museum solo show titled ‘Human Nature’.  Austin Lee’s works are housed in important private and public collection such as Moderna Museet, Stockholm.


Selected Works