Visualizing the Passage of Time in Eric Lee’s ‘Verehrung’

Artists, Bicycle Fine Art, Feature Article
Bicycle Fine Art - Eric Lee - Verehrung

Eric Lee
Verehrung, 2008
Oil, ignited gunpowder, ash, paper on five hardboard panels
Dimensions: 48 x 22 in. each panel
Display Dimensions: 48 x 116 in.

Bicycle Fine Art artist Eric Lee’s background is in the incredibly precise art of mechanical drafting. As a young man, he developed his skills creating technical drawings whose purpose was to convey raw information about heating and cooling systems to architects and contractors. Eric turned to fine art soon after gaining his degree in this craft, and has been creating monumental canvas and more personal drawings ever since. In his large oil paintings, Eric showcases his well-honed talent in rendering the intricate. His ability to patiently and faithfully commit to canvas what he observes is clearly on display; even though some of his paintings span more than twenty feet, they all prominently feature Eric’s interest in detailed rendering. Eric’s attention to detail invites the viewer to lean in close and contemplate his work on an intimate level.

Eric’s paintings often feature buildings from Superior, a town bordering Duluth, where Eric was born. The feel of the town has long been a source of inspiration for Eric, who became fascinated with Superior’s old and often decrepit structures. Eric’s interest in these sites led him to the library, where he spent countless hours pouring over maps and old documents, trying to learn more about the subject that was consuming him. Often, he would find miniature depictions of buildings in an antique map that he found so intriguing that he would then try to find the actual structure in the town.

Eric Lee - Verehrung - Detail 1 of 2

Eric Lee
Verehrung, 2008
(Detail 1 of 2)

The title ‘Verehrung’ was inspired from the German word, which means adoration or veneration, which Eric came across while he was reading a book on mystics of the Catholic Church. He became entranced by the word and knew immediately that he wanted to incorporate it into one of his paintings. This realization came about at the same time Eric began to become interested in the aesthetic qualities of the fishing boats used on Lake Superior, and it seemed natural to combine the two. The left side of Verehrung is dominated by a scene involving three “fishing tugs,” commercial fishing boats unique to the upper Great Lakes region. The largest of the three actually depicts a real vessel, dubbed the ‘Sharon Jon,’ which Eric found in Cornucopia, a small fishing village in Wisconsin. The boats, along with several accompanying barrels and crates, are completely static. In fact, they appear to be resting on a bed of grass and reeds, perhaps awaiting to be sent into the water, or perhaps abandoned, left to fall into a state of wretched disrepair.

Eric Lee - Verehrung - Detail 2 of 2

Eric Lee
Verehrung, 2008
(Detail 2 of 2)

Cornucopia is known for its smoked fish. One day while Eric was visiting the village he came across a smoking rack filled with fish. The image of all these miniscule creatures lined up, burnt and hooked to the rack, evoked a very specific childhood memory in Eric. He realized that these objects reminded him of how he thought a soul looked when he was young. In his words, ‘these fish…looked like little souls pointing and climbing into the sky in an act of adoration.’ Verehrung features dozens of these fish-like objects, which Eric created by forming thin ply tissue into the shape of a smoked fish, coating the objects in gunpowder, and igniting the piece’s surface. Eric is an avid experimenter with materials, and his later paintings have often included matchsticks embedded into the surface of the piece. Verehrung constitutes his third foray into using gunpowder as an artistic material. This process transforms pieces of thin paper on canvas into actual clumps of burned material, creating a surface texture that is not unlike the smoked fish they represent. This act of burning blurs the line between real and artificial in Eric’s work, and sets the tone for how he approaches a painting.

Eric Lee
Verehrung, 2008
*Currently on view at Profiles in the New York Design Center at 200 Lexington Ave, 12th floor, NYC

Verehrung is a monumental painting that encompasses five hardboard panels, a decision which he says relates to the passage of time. In his own words, “This could mean walking by a structure and the time that takes, to how time disconnects or dislocates and rearranges my memory of things.” Looking at the piece, the viewer is confronted with the issues of time. Eric’s paintings deal with the changing landscape of old industrial towns, from buildings that used to be grand but are now just ruins, to old boats that lie beached, ambiguous as to if they are in use. Eric’s style mimics his subject matter, monumental in scale but destructive in process. His paintings are serious and can even be read as dark and obscure, but they nevertheless display the beauty present in disrepair, and the allure of a time long passed.

Posted by

Lisa-Thi Beskar, Art Advisor & Curator