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Patrick Lee

by David Pagel

Patrick Lee’s gorgeous portraits of tough young men are great works of art because they entice you to imagine what it might be like to live in someone else’s skin.

If you don’t like yourself, that can be a relief. If you’re in love with yourself, it can be scary. And if you’re like most folks, your self is too complex to be captured by such black-and-white, all-or-nothing descriptions.

Just where one’s self ends and someone else’s otherness begins is the question Lee’s drawings ask of everyone who lays eyes on them and is not scared off by their power.

At Western Project, the 41-year-old artist’s second solo show in Los Angeles consists of seven graphite drawings of seven men’s heads and a video that is a digital version of a slide show. Made up of still images of guys Lee has photographed in cities across the country, his untitled video also functions as a good old-fashioned sketchbook, where the Montana-born, L.A.-based artist gathers observations, studies his subjects, tries out ideas and experiments with compositions.

His drawings are masterpieces in which nothing is left to chance. Absolutely everything is executed with patient perfectionism. Each pore, hair, thread of fabric and glistening highlight is a testament to Lee’s devotion to the observable world and to the human sentiments embodied by men who look like they might never let a lover get this close to them.

Collectively titled “Deadly Friends,” Lee’s drawings go heads and shoulder above those types of virtuoso draftsmanship that are cold and detached, their clinical accuracy a sorry substitute for sympathetic engagement. In contrast, Lee’s quietly stunning works are imbued with so much warmth, light and sensitivity that you’d have to be a brute not to see their beauty and a thug not to be touched by their empathy for others, who are nothing — and everything — like our selves.

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