David Michael Lee is an Orange County-based artist, curator, professor, arts advocate, master storyteller; his work is a unique facet to the collection at Chapman.
Equal parts collage, painting, and spatial construction, Lee’s canvases often begin as fabric scraps sewn together on his grandmother’s sewing machine: a heavy-duty 1968 Singer. Driven by large blocks of color, Lee constructs challenging perspectives between patchwork canvas and vivid acrylic paint. Although his recent work is more abstract and simplified, most of Lee’s earlier work—found across Chapman’s campus—establishes a narrative through recognizable imagery, silhouettes or outlines.
One such series is inspired by the song, Highwayman, recorded by Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson (known as The Highwaymen). Each painting in the four-part series relates to a verse in the song, which tells of four lost souls: a highwayman, a sailor, a dam builder, and a starship flyer. The song is also David Lee’s karaoke of choice.
While music often influences the content of Lee’s paintings, he instead listens to movies (most often from the 80s) while painting in his studio. Lee’s work reflects his uncanny ability to find and hone the seed of an amazing story amid a flurry of sensory intake.
Throughout his career, Lee has had five solo shows and numerous group shows around Southern California; he’s taught at almost every college and University in Orange County; he’s currently on the advisory board for the Orange County Center for the Arts and assists Tony Delap in his studio. At home, David’s creativity is echoed in his son, Alistair—the two constantly draw, sketch, and hatch impromptu construction projects; he and his wife, Julie, are expecting their second child this winter.
In addition to his artwork on campus, David Lee has made a tremendous impact on the visual arts at Chapman University over the past 12 years: as an adjunct professor in the art department, collection manager for the University Permanent Collection and the Escalette Collection of Art, and most recently as the interim University curator, David’s energy and ideas are indestructible. This fall, David leaves his position at Chapman to teach and manage the art gallery at Coastline Community College.
For unprecedented insight into how this local artist maintains such a rigorous schedule of constant creativity, David also curates his lunches on his blog, Eat This Sandwich.