Jivan Lee, "Fresh Light (Thank You Daniel)," diptych, 2024, Oil on panel, 48 x 120 in.

Jivan Lee has gained an esteemed reputation as a leading contemporary painter of the landscape of New Mexico, lauded for his profound connection to nature and his highly-physical process of plein air painting. He is celebrated for his vibrant use of color, textured application of painting, and his thoughtful, introspective approach to his subjects. Lee’s new exhibition, “Arboreal,” with its focus on the tree itself as primary subject matter, is a logical extension of his landscape painting practice. The show remains on view at LewAllen Galleries (Santa Fe, NM) through July 20, 2024.

Jivan Lee, "Budding Out by the River," 2024, Oil on panel, 48 x 36 in.
Jivan Lee, “Budding Out by the River,” 2024, Oil on panel, 48 x 36 in.

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As an artist, Lee ponders the idea that trees, since time immemorial, have occupied a special place in the imagination of humankind and possess deep and sacred meanings in numerous religious and folk traditions. They symbolize the ubiquitous cyclicality of growth, death and rebirth. The image of the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge are foundational in many mythologies. Lee reminds the viewer in these paintings that our spirits soar when we walk into nature and encounter these living sculptures and, with their sublime beauty, how we literally walk into wellbeing.

Jivan Lee, "Storms Down," 2024, Oil on panel, 60 x 40 in.
Jivan Lee, “Storms Down,” 2024, Oil on panel, 60 x 40 in.

Instead of blending brushstrokes, Lee preserves the sculptural quality of his gestural marks, showcasing them as spontaneous sources of pattern and rhythm. The surface of a Jivan Lee painting transforms into a mosaic of color cells or a dynamic panorama, teeming with fluid activity that can even evoke the spirit of action painting.

Lee’s plein air practice is intentionally designed to capture the land as it transforms before his eyes—the morning sun illuminating the earth, or an afternoon storm gathering, breaking, and dissipating. As hours, days, and seasons pass, Lee’s art emphasizes the interplay of time and the forces of nature and humanity.

Jivan Lee, "Tree in the Trail," 2024, Oil on panel, 60 x 48 in.
Jivan Lee, “Tree in the Trail,” 2024, Oil on panel, 60 x 48 in.

The works in “Arboreal” continue to illustrate the challenges and rewards of Lee’s process. Whether capturing an alpine conifer in “Tree in the Trail” by hauling 60 pounds of gear through rugged terrain and winds, or setting up his canvas at a rest stop at the Colorado border amidst horrendous winds and dust for “Young Ponderosa Beneath the Vastness of Blanca Peak,” Lee follows the essential wisdom of letting the process prevail.

Jivan Lee, "Young Ponderosa Beneath the Vastness of Blanca Peak," diptych, Oil on panel, 108 x 48 in.
Jivan Lee, “Young Ponderosa Beneath the Vastness of Blanca Peak,” diptych, Oil on panel, 108 x 48 in.

Originally from Woodstock, NY, Lee studied painting and environmental policy at Bard College in Annandale-On-Hudson, NY. Following graduate school, he taught for the University of New Mexico in Taos, and founded and directed the Project for Art and the Environment. His paintings have been exhibited nationally at museums and educational institutions and covered in numerous publications such as Western Art & Architecture, Southwest Contemporary, The Santa Fe New Mexican, Phoenix Home and Garden, Fine Art Connoisseur, Southwest Art, Art Business News, and PleinAir Magazine.

Jivan Lee, "Taos Ski Valley Aspens," 2023, Oil on canvas, 40 x 30 in.
Jivan Lee, “Taos Ski Valley Aspens,” 2023, Oil on canvas, 40 x 30 in.

Lee notes, “My approach to painting is animated by a few beliefs: One is that by painting outdoors, amidst the landscapes I know – the places I live, the trees I see, the trails I walk – I will find something of the universal and be able to share it in the form of finished work. The belief is not that I will necessarily understand it (or even know that I’ve found it); only that the act of looking closely – deeply – at the landscape is powerful and opens up new perceptual possibility.”


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