“The Mystic” by Chloe Lee

Surface Noise, the Baxter Avenue record shop and bookstore that opened in late 2016, recently expanded to include a new gallery space, bringing a more visible fine art presence to the Spinelli’s end of the Bardstown/Baxter business corridor.

Friday, July 13, marks the opening of Surface Noise’s first solo exhibition of an artist — Chloe Lee. Lee will present more than 30 paintings, offering attendees an array stickers, patches, prints and even coffee mugs.

Insider spoke with the Lee by phone from her home in the Bowling Green area.

Chloe Lee | Photo by Ty Cobb

“My family was military, so we moved around a lot,” she says. “We moved to the East Coast, and then landed in Kentucky, and that’s when I started taking art seriously, in high school.” 

A Bakersfield, Calif., native, Lee’s family settled down in Hopkinsville, Ky. She began developing her style and putting her work online 

“I was taking my own work, my own style, and kind of pushing it forward, and then once Instagram came around, I used that as a platform to share artwork,” says Lee.

She began to incorporate images of female characters, and while they are pop culture-inspired, each one is an original creation.

Lee identifies with the pop surrealist art movement, which has a mix of genre-based imagery, influence from underground comics and flavors and allusions to a variety of 20th century subcultures. In the 21st century, pop surrealism has continued to incorporate more influences from indie and underground cultures, both on and offline.

Lee describes her take on pop surrealism, which she mixes with a dose of psychedelia: “It’s really dreamlike, lots of light pastel colors, big-eyed characters and creatures. One of the big pioneers is Mab Graves, and she’s from Indiana. That’s one of my main influences.”

Though she puts development time into her original characters, including finding a specific color palette to try to express a character’s mood, many of these characters will only be painted once.

“Crying Unicorn” by Chloe Lee

“A lot of it is just one single portrait, so I try to draw really strong individual characters,” she explains. “A lot of them look pissed off, a lot of them are powered by plants. Some of them have weapons.”

As a working artist, much of Lee’s time goes into producing art that can be worn or stuck to something.

In conversation, she switches freely back and forth between contemplative musings on her art, and hard-nosed appraisal of the market power of her product. She’s worked with a variety of companies and platforms, from T-shirt giant Threadless to independent stores like Yellow Stripe Company.

She’s now a regular at art shows and offers an ever-changing selection of goods.

“Once I make a product, I won’t reproduce it again,” she says. “I’ll just make another product.”

Lee is internet savvy and on her hustle, but she has another big influence — a calmer and more contemplative inspiration.

“When I lived in California, I lived on a horse ranch with my grandparents … and they were pretty much self-sustaining, so they had their own garden. I think that really influenced me,” she says.

“Prickly Heart” by Chloe Lee

With a solo show at Surface Noise, Lee is able to stretch past her smaller creations.

“I have a lot of art I keep hidden that’s really big, so they’re hard to fit in group shows,” she says. “And with vending events, you kind of have to appeal to a broader spectrum of audiences. You also have to help support the artists around you.”

But with solo shows, explains Lee, you can focus on yourself, with your content and in your online presence.

“I can give sneak peeks, do promoting my way. It’s more personal,” says Lee. “Sometimes vending is too hectic. It’s so competitive.”

Still, vending has its special appeal outside of the monetary possibilities. Lee wants to get her art to people who can’t afford original pieces.

“Everybody loves stickers — they’re cheap, affordable. Especially in this day and age, it’s hard to afford art sometimes, so it’s really cool to have a fine art image available as an affordable sticker,” she says.

It’s a popular product for Lee, and she frequently participates in online sticker clubs.

“There are sticker clubs all over. Actually I’m in a few, through Patreon, and you pledge $2 or $3 a month for them, and they’ll send you a sticker pack every month, and every pack is a new sticker,” explains Lee. “People have gotten really creative with it. It’s really blown up in the past year. It’s hard not to spend all your money on it.” 

Some of Lee’s stickers, pins and patches | Courtesy of Chloe Lee

There also are pin and patch clubs. The most cursory internet searches turned up dozens of clubs, offering anime-inspired art, original characters, licensed products, pinup girls and boys, Voltrons and Pokemons, amid a plethora of pop and lowbrow creations.

Pop surrealism, an art that was born from subculture, has in turn created its own flourishing and distinct subculture, and Chloe Lee fits right in.

Surface Noise Presents: An Exhibition by Chloe Lee” opens Friday, July 13, with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m. After that, the work will be on view during the store’s regular hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon-6 p.m. Sunday. Surface Noise is located at 600 Baxter Ave.

Eli Keel is “pretty much” a Louisville native. You may have seen him around town reading poetry, short stories, dancing or acting. He’s a passionate locavore, so you may have also seen him stuffing his face at one of Louisville’s amazing restaurants. When he isn’t too busy writing short stories, he blogs at amanwalksintoablog.wordpress.com.


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