Today we’d like to introduce you to Bryan Lee.
Bryan, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today both personally and as an artist.
I grew up watching the “classics”. Spongebob, Jimmy Big Brain, Samurai Jack, Avatar, Naruto. Growing up in an Asian household, there was the “classic” emphasis on academics, anything else would be “hobbies” to put on your college apps to look good. I do remember early on, one of my favorite pastimes would be to take scratch pieces of paper and draw out these elaborate stick figure armies that would battle each other. The final product would look close to a tumbleweed of vigorous pen strokes that represented the aftermath of war. And perhaps in the intensity of these pen strokes, somewhere deep down, my mom saw a passion for art. And so began the journey…
Ms. Mei taught me the fundamentals. But even more important than that she taught me the value of my own voice (even if, early on, my voice mainly consisted of toilet humor). That “good technique” does not necessitate “good art” as many, including myself, naturally thought towards artwork. These lessons were invaluable to me and I can only look back with much appreciation.
My time at highschool, OCSA (Orange County School of the Arts), taught me the importance of friendship and having friends stick with you through thick and thin. Friends who you fight goblins with, who explore the depths of the abyss with, who you stay together past the twilight hours of the night with, who you accidentally “pants” and pull off more than you intended with. Ones’ that motivate and push, challenge, that you both learn with and make mistakes with. These friends from high school have shaped me to be the artist and person I am today.
Getting into USC for animation was a watershed moment in realizing that not only could I, but I wanted to make art and animation a serious career path in my life (because up until this point my parents still pushed for a traditional career path and I was still unsure of what I wanted to do). College only served to broaden my understanding of the medium and allow me to further hone my craft and develop a stronger voice within my work and also discover the shelf life of many different things. And the family kept growing and so did the stories.
And throughout this whole journey, I’m thankful to God and my church family, especially to the individuals who poured out love into my life (through many seasons) and helped me grow in my faith and strengthen me to be who I am today. And I would not be where I am today if door after door did not keep presenting itself and being opened one after the other.
Of course, this is the abridged version of my life so far, but if I had to characterize key moments of my life as an artist, these are the ones that stand out the most to me. From stick-man war doodles to buff men fighting in an elevator, you could say the content of my work has remained relatively the same in the course of my journey as an artist. But to be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
We’d love to hear more about your art. What do you do and why and what do you hope others will take away from your work?
As my freshman year french teacher, Paulette Chandler, used to say “Variety is the spice of life” and also the late Abraham Lincoln used to say, “Go big or go home”. These two philosophies largely shape the body of work I have attempted to produce and continue to seek to create. I don’t want to be the same. Why be the same? At the same time, I don’t want to simply be different for the sake of being different, I believe that can be meaningless as well (if taken to an extreme). But I want to make work that shows others there’s more to see than Disney, or Pixar, or whatever animated television there is nowadays. Not that these things are bad in and of itself, but simply there’s so much more and why settle for less? And ultimately, whatever it is I end up doing, I want to fully commit and go for it as hard as I can.
Right now, the medium I primarily work in is animation. I just finished my senior thesis “Cage Match” which is up on Vimeo for those who would like to see! I hope to create some more independent short films as a recent graduate and perhaps move into live-action at some point. I love writing, I love telling stories. These things have been most impactful to me and I can only hope to produce the same experience for others.
I love all that art and animation can do: it evokes, it incites, it connects, it speaks, it questions, it moves, it brings life, and so many other things. My hope as an artist is to create something uniquely individual to my own experience and at the same time can be universally understood and relatable. As an aspiring independent filmmaker, what Charlie Kaufman spoke about his work in an interview really resonated with me “What I try to do is infuse my screenplays with enough information so that upon repeated viewings you can have different experiences, rather than the movie goes linearly… I try to keep it as a conversation with the audience… with each individual in the audience hopefully…”
To me, that’s the most precious thing. Conversation. I’m not the smartest. I don’t know many things. I make mistakes. I only have what I have experienced from the little time I’ve been alive. Im growing and as I grow, I’d like to maintain a dialogue with those that view and receive my work. Perhaps, thinking of my work as an intimate space in which simple conversation can take place. That’s all I can really ask for and that’s what I hope my work can be and where I feel it is at least at this point in time.
The sterotype of a starving artist scares away many potentially talented artists from pursuing art – any advice or thoughts about how to deal with the financial concerns an aspiring artist might be concerned about?
If I had to pick one thing as a challenge for myself and other artists, it’s the sea of media that we live in. Every day, we’re being shot with a fire hydrant of information and media my body and brain are going to explode. And as an artist, I contribute to that, and I don’t want to create something that gets lumped into this large, general mass of whatever it is you want to call it. I want to create work that is set apart, that cuts into myself and other people. And the big challenge really is how will I go about accomplishing that. Please, if you do know, email me. Jokes aside, I have no control over how people will receive the work I do. I believe most people, including myself, desire to do something meaningful with their art. As I’m thinking about this out loud, perhaps the real challenge is reevaluating what I consider “meaningful” work to be. And at the end of the day, I’m still learning, still growing and developing myself as an artist. And I probably will be until I explode out of this earth.
Do you have any events or exhibitions coming up? Where would one go to see more of your work? How can people support you and your artwork?
As I mentioned earlier, I recently released my short film “Cage Match” on Vimeo (link here: https://vimeo.com/334506441)! If you can show it some love and, if you enjoyed it, to pass it along as well, that would be bomb-diddly-tastic! It recently got accepted into some festivals, so depending on where you are and when this article is released you might be able to check it out “live” in L.A. or New York. But you can also just follow me on Instagram @tagawee as that’s my main means of social media presence currently. You can see what cool things I’m working on and maybe some rad artwork I’m cooking up from time to time.
Other than that, one of my good friends helped me set up a nifty website bryanlee.love where you can see my professional work, kind of, not really…
- Website: http://bryanlee.love/
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tagawee/?hl=pt
- Other: https://vimeo.com/334506441
Personal Photo taken by Mathieu Libman, Artwork created by Bryan Lee