For About Faces, his second solo exhibition in Hong Kong, California-based American painter Lee Waisler presents a series of moving portraits of historical and contemporary figures. In this latest series, he offers a global group of iconic individuals—Albert Einstein, Eileen Chang, Marilyn Monroe, and Liu Xiaobo among them—all of whom have played an important role in shaping the modern world.
Having practiced abstraction for decades, Waisler returned to figuration full-force six years ago, making what he calls “dimensional portraits,” combining strips of wood and blocks of color to create finely nuanced faces and figures. He layers his canvases with thick pigments, followed by the addition of organic materials that hold symbolic value: sand for time, wood for life, and glass for light. The result is an impactful, tactile study of the faces of great cultural figures.
The range of materials Waisler incorporates conveys a dynamism in form and texture, reflecting his deep empathy for the human spirit. “I cannot but paint humanity,” says Waisler. For this show, Waisler’s works again reflect this compassion. His portraits span cultures and disciplines, and include writer Virginia Woolf, and film director Zhang Yimao.
Waisler’s portraits serve as a reminder of how a single individual can bring about change upon society as a whole. Starting out in the 1960s, his earliest works were socially and politically charged, dealing with momentous historical events such as the Holocaust, the Vietnam War, and the civil rights movement. Waisler’s works soon began to reflect his growing interest in Eastern philosophy, and accordingly, became increasingly abstract. It was after Waisler’s journey to India in the mid-nineties that his works moved toward figuration and away from pure abstraction.
Lee Waisler’s work is in prominent museum and private collections worldwide, including those of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Victoria & Albert museum, London; the Tel Aviv Museum of Art; the Brooklyn Museum; the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC; The Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris; the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi; and the Indian Museum, Calcutta.