.debris. Africa Americas Maine Migrations Mobilities Rocky Mountain West

Neo Rio 2020: HOME

The way the box arrived to us here in Maine was circuitous. It was made in Maine, shipped west, then shipped back to Maine in a mobilities intense transaction. It is made primarily of pine, whose cone is the state flower of Maine. We are living in Mulatamicuwon or ‘the place where water flows and sticks to the sand’ now known as Blue Hill Falls. We have only been here for a few years, so have not grown deep enough roots to consider it ‘home’, but it is certainly a lovely place to be during a pandemic. Our current residence is in the homeland of the Penobscot, who spent summers on the peninsula. Part of the Wabanaki family of tribes in what is known as Dawnland, Penobscot were the most decimated communities of the area as European settlers reaped the rich resources of this land. Our house is located in close proximity to the first settler landing spot here in Blue Hill, constructed by a ship builder in 1835. We frequently think of the settler relationships with Penobscot. European colonists ended up severing Maine’s landscape of the great White Pine. They used the straight but flexible trunks for ship masts. The lumber first built the ships then was carried off to build plantations through the Caribbean, laying in place colonial structures of systemized racism that persist today. Africans were severed from their homes to serve in Caribbean plantations constructed from material that was severed from the landscape in Maine. Penobscot people, so closely interwoven with the land, suffered tremendous loss due to the severance physically from the landscape as the landscape was stripped of its’ forests.

We burned the box, then placed a nest inside. While the bird was resourceful with the available materials, it made us sad to think of the synthetic plastic that was woven into this home for birds and reminds us that modern human construction of homes often consists of chemically laden, synthetic material. Within the nest are a pair of pine eggs, painted by Thatcher Gray, along with a marble egg. It reminded us of brood parasites; birds who lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, then fly away so that their young sap the resources from the unwillingly adopted parents. We photographed it in a Hawthorn tree, which was the other species decimated from this landscape. The trees were harvested for their long thorns, which were used as nails in ship construction. These ‘nails’ grew on trees resistant to rot, and would hold up in the salt heavy air better than the iron nails which would succumb to rust. While we were burning the box, Carol Dana, who was visiting from Indian Island, made the comment that the burning reminded her of the mega-fires out west. The fires that sent out a smoky haze that we could see even here in Maine. Her comment tossed me back to the west, the area I do consider HOME.

Neo Rio is hosted by LEAP
Land, Experience & Art of Place
Lee Lee & Thatcher Gray - NeoRio 2020 HOME box
Lee Lee & Thatcher Gray - NeoRio 2020 HOME box
Lee Lee & Thatcher Gray - NeoRio 2020 HOME box
Lee Lee & Thatcher Gray - NeoRio 2020 HOME box
Lee Lee & Thatcher Gray - NeoRio 2020 HOME box
.debris. Mobilities Slow Food

insect apocalypse

DOW chemical plant - landscape painting by Lee Lee
Aerial view of the DOW chemical plant in Texas
Silkscreen, sharpie, colored pencil, gouache & oxidized copper on paper

One of the most dangerous unspoken threats we are facing is the insect-apocalypse currently underway. As the foundation of ecological webs as well as an essential part of our food production, the disappearance of pollinators presents a grave situation, yet few speak of it. While creating studies of pollinators native to Maine, I sometimes feel inclined to cut them out to collage on various backgrounds. With the voids, I build collages that integrate reproductions of the DOW Chemical Plant landscape that I painted in 2009. Filling the voids of these bumble bee forms with the saturated textures of the original landscape speaks to the impacts of chemicals that fill our spheres. Even the word ‘pesticide’ reduces our perception of value by blanketing judgement across the whole insect world without recognition of the role that beneficial insects play in a balanced approach to agriculture.

watercolor of Bumble Bee by Lee Lee
insect apocalypse collage by Lee Lee
insect apocalypse collage by Lee Lee
insect apocalypse collage by Lee Lee
insect apocalypse collage by Lee Lee
Mobilities Rocky Mountain West Slow Food


The Environmental Unsustainability of the American Food Machine

Oil refinery in Commerce City, painting by Lee Lee
Oil refinery in Commerce City, Colorado | oil on canvas

What does it look like to have a tree scream out in desperation? This body of work is driven by concerns about our nourishment, as well as a fear for the resulting degradation of the environment.

Oil makes up the foundation of the American food machine. Our reliance on fossil fuels in food production is immense. Not only are they used extensively in farming and transportation, they are also the catalyst which fixes ammonium nitrate to make chemical fertilizers. Dominating this installation are paintings depicting an oil refinery in the rain. The size emphasizes our reliance on oil, while the execution questions the effects of fossil fuels on the cleanliness of our natural resources through paint stains dripping into the water.

Oil painting of midwestern crop circles by Lee LEe
Crop Circles | oil on canvas

Flying above Midwestern plains, the crop circles and grids of industrial farms are an imposition on ancient grasslands. The only remaining natural elements are the occasional rivers whose fingers branch up into the geometric landscape. The Crop series consists of dormant fields under a light dusting of snow to reflect how our process of conventional farming is leaching nutrients from the earth while filling our waterways with poisons, which will ultimately cause infertility in our land. Pairing the Crop landscapes with interiors of an abandoned Intercontinental Ballistic Missile silo illustrates a direct link between our systematic food production and war. After WWII, the US Agriculture department encouraged farmers to spread ammonium nitrate, leftover from bomb construction, onto their fields as fertilizer. Today we are deeply entrenched in a war in an attempt to feed our oil habit, which in turn sustains the industrial food machine. It is disturbing that our “nourishment” is born out of war and continues to manifest such destruction to this day.

Abandoned slaughterhouse, watercolor painting by Lee Lee
Abandoned slaughterhouse | watercolor, pencil & tar on shotgunned paper collage

Continuing down the path of food production, a series of watercolors manifests the haunted spaces of an abandoned slaughterhouse. The energy it takes to raise meat takes up the bulk of grain that we produce. In his book, Anger, Thich Nhat Hanh describes how traces of energy are absorbed through consumption. For example, if an animal leads a miserable life, then we absorb that misery when we take their meat into our bodies. This series is complimented by a set of roadkill drawings which serve as a poignant reflection of our attitude towards animal life; these wild animals lay as part of our refuse, disregarded as we speed along the highways of our own lives.

'bleeding' aspen photograph by Lee Lee
Unaltered photograph
‘bleeding’ Aspen
Lazy Shamrock Ranch, Colorado

Both nitrate and carbon emissions from America’s conventional food machine make a huge contribution to climate change. One of the most visually striking symptoms is emerging as a new virus found in aspen trees. The red gashes in the thin skin-like bark of the trees appear as flesh wounds. More than a literal illustration of a shifting environment, the corporeal appearance of the trees make a connection to our own bodies. As our health is intricately connected to the health of the environment, the violence conveyed through the process of using a shotgun in this series reflects the violence we are wreaking on ourselves.

Pinting of a Titan missile silo by Lee Lee
Titan Missile Silo Eastern Colorado Acryllic on Canvas

The built structures portrayed here are in various states of decay; a return to nature. This represents the beginning of a shift in attitude of many Americans who are concerned about the adverse effects of the way we produce and consume food. Despite the prevailing theme of environmental demise in this body of work, we can hardly destroy the environment. Ultimately the world will survive; the question is whether or not humans will be around to enjoy it. The survival of humanity will be determined by the attitudes and approaches we take towards interacting with the environment now.

.debris. Mobilities

2015 .debris. update

Since autumn 2012, .debris. has grown into a collaborative project which is being created as a response to the problems presented by single use plastic. The work reflects the literal problem of plastic in marine environments while offering a symbolic representation of the chemical body burdens carried by wildlife and humans alike. In presenting these issues, we are asked to consider misplaced notions of “disposability”, calling in to question consumer driven waste which has devalued what is in fact a very important material.

Surface Arts London invited the Debris Project to engage communities in northern Thailand during a residency specifically designed for collaborative works at the Rumpueng Community Arts Center during the month of August. The work was shown at the Rumpueng gallery in October, 2015. From there, the installation moved to an exhibit in downtown Chiang Mai by Art Relief International, who continued to develop the project regionally through the remainder of the year. The project traveled to Letterkenny Arts Center in Ireland as part of the Hybrid exchange between Colorado and Irish artists. The following spring the work was presented at TransCultural Exchange’s conference, Expanding Worlds at the University of Boston. A regional collaboration with multiple organizations through the San Francisco Bay Area culminated in an exhibition at the Gallery Route One near the National Seashore. The project was integrated into the summer camp program at the Marine Mammal Center and as an ongoing aspect of the ecological activism promoted by Save Our Shores in Santa Cruz. The integration of the project into regional educational programming took place through the school year with the culmination exhibition taking place with a presentation by Lee Lee at the Monterrey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Education Center in April 2016.

Highlights since the project was installed at the Chateau de la Napoule include an installation for the Mobile Art Exhibition curated by Aslak Aamot Kjaerulff, which was installed at the Aalborg University for the Cosmobilities Network in Copenhagen, Denmark. The project as presented in a mobilities context will be published by Springer Press International and released in 2016. A presentation on the value of stepping away of educational models when building international collaborations was given to the Association of Environmental Studies and Sciences for Welcome to the Anthropocene at Pace University, New York. Ties between chemical body burdens and industrial agriculture were explored on a Slow Food platform during Terra Madre in Turin, Italy. In the Caribbean, we executed a collaborative performance, Message in a Bottle with Aragorn’s workshop on Trellis Bay in the British Virgin Islands. Representations were also gathered from the Timouns Rezistanz in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. Marine debris collected from a beach clean with Sharkastics on Maui have provided hard plastics softened by the open ocean to integrate into youth workshops on the mainland. Explorations on effective community engagement around plastic pollution were shared with the Voluntary Artist Studio of Thimphu, Bhutan. In conjunction with the Biennial of the Americas, Processus included part of the work in an exhibition about the Life of Things. Also in Colorado, the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History hosted a family activity day themed, From the Mountains through the Prairies to the Oceans, that tracked waterways. Installations of student involvement in the project were mounted in Denver by the Denver Aquarium, PlatteForum and the Ricks Center for Gifted Children at the University of Denver. In New Mexico, the river organization, Amigos Bravos, hosted a .debris. presentation at the Santa Fe Community Foundation as part of their Water Matters series, and the Field Institute of Taos integrated it as part of their curriculum to explore human impacts on river ecologies. The project has been published in articles by the United Nations Environment Programme, Bay Nature Magazine, RISDxyz and as an interview on Santa Fe Radio Café.
Essentially this was developed as a flexible tool to engage people creatively around issues surrounding plastic pollution. The overall project gained strength through gathering a wide range of geographical representations of the ecological impacts of plastic. It is used as a hands on activity to incorporate into existing programs or curricula, as well as a platform to share effective ways of addressing the problems at hand. 

.debris. Mobilities

turtles swimming with marine debris

Lee Lee drawing of sea turtle on stone lithograph
stone lithograph of pressed plastic bag, pencil & tea stain | 2011
printed under James Koga, Honolulu Academy of Arts 2002
watercolor of sea turtle by Lee Lee
sea turtle watercolor by Lee Lee
watercolor painting of sea turtles by Lee Lee
watercolor with torched .debris. collage | 2014
Americas Migrations Mobilities Rocky Mountain West Slow Food


Lee Lee - monoprint of monarch butterflies
monoprints | 2014
exhibited as an interactive installation with Susanna Mitchell in San Miguel d’Allende, Mexico for the Center for Global Justice, Moving Beyond Capitalism

exhibited in the Woodbine Ecology Center’s nature lab alongside dormant crop circles in the Midwest & a dispersal of milkweed seeds.
Lee Lee monoprint of monarch butterflies
Lee Lee acryllic painting of Midwestern Crop Circles
crop | acrylic on canvas | 2009

Consuming Plastic

Banana Farm – West Indies
Lee Lee: portrait of a Mayan woman drinking coke in Guatemala
Refreshment – Guatemala
Honolulu street scene painting by Lee Lee
Construction zone in Honolulu
painting of a floating toyshop by Lee Lee
Floating toyshop on the Mekong Delta, Vietnam
Consuming Plastic painting of Greek Fishing boats
Fishing boats in Greece
Painting of a dugout canoe in the Okavango Delta by Lee Lee
Dugout canoe in the Okavango Delta, Botswana
Painting of a street scene in Dlehi, India
Street at night, Delhi, India
Portrait of wool vendor, La Paz, Bolivia by Lee Lee
Wool Stand in La Paz, Bolivia
Painting of a lakefront village, Cambodia by Lee Lee
Lakeside village, Cambodia
Painting of Kenyan students by Lee Lee
After School in Kenya
Painting of rituals held along the Ganga, Varanasi
Ritual along the Ganga, Varanasi, India
.debris. Mobilities

Chateau de la Napoule

Do you see what I see?

Whale family by Lee Lee

A Fine Art Experience for Children & Everyone Else

This show is for you—to inspire you to see art in your own way.  To share what you see.  To ask the people around you what they see.  When we share our experience with others, we are connected. We form a community

Maybe something at this show will excite you. You will go home and keep thinking of it. That thought, can be called a spark and it means your creative fire has been lit.  Keep the fire alive and continue to think, talk and draw about what you have seen.  You will feel more a part of everything if you do.

My son, Thatcher Gray was four when I was invited to attend this residency geared towards creating work for children. I felt an urgency in communicating what I had learned about chemical and plastic pollution because of the challenge they present to the next generation. Works created during the residency are viewed here. We were asked to provide an interactive element for the exhibition, and the suggestion launched the project into becoming a platform for an international response to chemical and plastic pollution.

.debris. gallery installation at the Chateau de la Napoule
Residency installation view of .debris. at the Chateau de la Napoule: test run
Lee Lee paintings of debris
Lee Lee painting of harbor seal & debris
Lee Lee painting of Alewives
Lee Lee painting of Tuna
Lee Lee painting of beluga whales
Lee Lee debris installation
Lee Lee shark painting
Lee Lee plankton collages
Lee Lee plankton assemblage
Lee Lee plankton painting with marine debris
Lee Lee installation at the Chateau de la Napoule
.debris. Europe Migrations Mobilities Rocky Mountain West

Hybrid at Redline

Curatorial Statement
Initiated by Rian Kerrane, a native of Ireland, Hybrid asks fourteen artists to “cross over”. The artists’ work examines the experience of crossing the Atlantic in the current political climate while acknowledging historic influences from each artist’s perspective; identifying experiences of (dis)placement and immersion in cultural and social surroundings from either side of the Atlantic. RedLine provides the first venue for a pair of exhibitions, the second of which will take place in Ireland, allowing each artist to engage both with “local” proximity and “foreign” distance in turn.

The wide range of included media and the diverse origins of the participants are intended to incite a stimulating translation and critical examination of ongoing cultural conversations and personal experiences of the hybridization of our lives, expectations, ancestral backgrounds, geology, perceptions, identities, of immigration, and of both the geographic distance and human commonality of the artists.

Shaped by Kerrane’s personal ties with the included artists, Hybrid emerges from a reflective process of curatorial matchmaking. Working in sculpture, painting, drawing, photography, film and installation, the works of these two groups of artists both mirror and confront one another. Hybrid acknowledges and pays tribute to complex local experiences in a common global culture, reflecting Kerrane’s eighteen years of continually (re)crossing the Atlantic.

Artist’s Statement
The Irish arrived in the west as hard rock miners, and planted the seeds of industrialization that changed the face of our landscape and established the foundation of culture in our mountain towns. Even today, the old saloons carry an Irish flavor. This series looks at the long term, chemical impacts of a set of mines perched around the town of Leadville, at the headwaters of the Arkansas river. I was awarded a Terraphilia residency through the Colorado Art Ranch, where I had the opportunity to get to know the ecologist, Susan Tweit. She offered great insight into the nature of the river, and the transformation of the ecology after the grouping of mines upstream became a federal ‘Superfund’ site, wherein the pollution from the mines was mitigated. The mines had no outflow, so when the snow melts, all the passages fill up with water, which then overflows into the Arkansas River, killing all the insects and larvae in a flood of red-colored heavy metals from the mines. The drawings here were paired with a series of waterflies native to the region & drawn with red-tinged ink in a way that make them look like they were exploding.

drawing of the Leadville mines by Lee Lee
drawing of the Leadville mines by Lee Lee
drawing of the Leadville mines by Lee Lee
drawing of the Leadville mines by Lee Lee
drawing of the Leadville mines by Lee Lee
drawing of the Leadville mines by Lee Lee
drawing of the Leadville mines by Lee Lee
drawing of the Leadville mines by Lee Lee
drawing of the Leadville mines by Lee Lee
Lee Lee | Mines from Leadville, Colorado
Teastains, pencil, ink, gouache, charcoal & watercolor on Strathmore paper
11″ x 11″ | 2012 | Created on a Terraphilia residency hosted by the ecologist Susan Tweit in Salida, CO
Americas Mobilities Slow Food Women


With eleven month old Thatcher Gray on my back, we meander our way though Chichicastenango’s Saturday market, awash in vibrant Mayan color and patterning. Starting with stone lithograph prints of rain forest inspired drawings, tracked with fresh tar then torn into squares, the process represents the fragmentation of Mayan land and culture. Atop this foundation, cultural persistence is demonstrated by Mayan traditional practices maintained despite Guatemala’s history of atrocity.

Mixed media artwork from Guatemala by Lee Lee
Mixed media artwork from Guatemala by Lee Lee
Mixed media artwork from Guatemala by Lee Lee
Mixed media artwork from Guatemala by Lee Lee
Mixed media artwork from Guatemala by Lee Lee
Mixed media artwork from Guatemala by Lee Lee
Mixed media artwork from Guatemala by Lee Lee
Mixed media artwork from Guatemala by Lee Lee
Mixed media artwork from Guatemala by Lee Lee
Mixed media artwork from Guatemala by Lee Lee
Mixed media artwork from Guatemala by Lee Lee
Mixed media artwork from Guatemala by Lee Lee
Lee Lee | Chichicastenango Market, Guatemala 2009
Mixed media including tar, sharpie, colored pencil, watercolor and gouache on torn stone lithograph
14″ x 14″ | 2010 Taos