If anyone makes paintings that look like Play-Doh figurines, it’s New York artist Austin Lee. Whimsical humanoid figures lack elbows and knees on his canvases, which forge a dream world of their own that could very well be populated by gummy bears. Fittingly, his cartoonish, Pop Art–inspired universe nods to virtual reality, the internet, and the metaverse—tangible, yet intangible—and their implications on the human psyche. His fantastical visions, which encompass still life paintings and Rorschach-inspired forms to fuzzy portraits of blobby family members mid-embrace, are on view at Jeffrey Deitch in New York for his latest solo exhibition, “Like It Is,” which features 19 new artworks across airbrushed paintings, lifesize 3D-printed sculptures, and digital animation.
Lee composed every artwork in the exhibition in virtual reality before translating them into physical objects. Since his last outing with the gallery, in 2018, he’s drawn inspiration from software—and the moguls that helped make technology ubiquitous. One painting depicts Microsoft founder Bill Gates splayed out suggestively across a desk with dated desktop computer monitors, bringing to mind a promotional (and, decades later, internet viral) 1985 photoshoot that helped bring Windows 1.0 to the fore. Another like-minded painting shows a somber Jeff Bezos hunched over a table adorned with flowers eating an iguana. “The original photos were interesting on their own,” Lee says, “so I wanted to quote them rather than turn them into something completely new.”