It was the day-glow skirt and similarly colored construction gear she saw on the street that did it for Lee Withington.
“I noticed people wearing fluorescent colors more,“ she said. “I think it says many things like, ‘don’t ignore me’ or “I love the color.” We are bombarded with fluorescent color. I wanted to explore that.”
In describing the inspiration for her strong new Shift show, Lurid, Withington talks about the theme her vibrant, acrylic paintings portray—transitional moments.
By using symbols in nature such as water, man-made objects and color, I seek to express a transitory moment, a place between the present and a point where a change in our experience requires us to make a choice”
Her exploration of those fleeting moments—moments hovering somewhere between reality and fantasy—in which people make conscious or unconscious choices is what drives her to search for discovery through painting.
“By using symbols in nature such as water, man-made objects and color, I seek to express a transitory moment, a place between the present and a point where a change in our experience requires us to make a choice,” she said.
It was another flash point in Lee’s life that set her off on full-time painting. In 2000, newly graduated from a program in graphic design, Lee had intended to pursue a career in illustration when she had to admit to herself that she and computers didn’t mesh. So she put down the mouse and picked up the brush.
It was a perfect fit.
Lee had always drawn as a child and her parents encouraged her to hone her skills through taking courses at Columbus College of Art and Design. Like many of us, she grew up thinking that perfecting realistic imagery was the basis of art. But later on, when she continued her study on her own, she found that her true attraction was to find the composition within the flow of paint.
She began in oils but had to give them up due to a chemical reaction to the paint. Now she is content with acrylics because she has learned to take the medium to its limits.
She works in many layers of washes diluted to the point where the paint is actually breaking up. Between layers she scrubs mightily, leaving behind intriguing ghosts that draw the eye into the depth of her paintings. “It’s like a dance,” Lee said of her process. “I literally take a painting into the shower and use a big scrub brush normally used to scrub a floor,” she said. “I also use fingernail brushes. “And glazing makes a big contribution to the depth that I seem to always be striving for.”
I closely identify with water. I like that there’s no beginning and no end of it. I think of it as sort of symbolizing clarity.”
To tie in with the thin florescent lines or drips in her otherwise watery, blue series, Lee included vibrant hues of blue ceramic traffic cones fabricated by an artist friend Melissa Balch. Lee said she naturally was attracted to their shape. She hopes the juxtaposition of the cones and paintings may serve to shift the viewer’s perspective.
“I’ve always been a person who sees the world through nature,” Lee said. “I closely identify with water. I like that there’s no beginning and no end of it. I think of it as sort of symbolizing clarity.” To which she playfully added “these little slashes of florescence” or fleeting moments of thought.
“If, for even a split nanosecond you see something in a different way,” Lee said, “that’s uncovering something and that’s to me a transitional moment.”