"The Rat Pack," by Jae Chan Lee, a student in the Academy of Art University's School of Fine Art

[Carol A. Nunnelly] Jae Chan Lee grew up in Korea, where he listened to western hip hop music and developed a love of art. Inspired by David Lee, an instructor at the Academy of Art University whom he met in Korea, Jae traveled to the U.S. to study in the Academy’s School of Fine Art.

For his painting The Rat Pack, Jae received the Frank Lanza Award—given to the best emerging artist following completion of freshman classes—at the Academy’s Spring Show in 2013. We recently interviewed Jae to learn more about this talented BFA student.

"Diary of Summer," by Jae Chan Lee

You came a long way to study painting. What motivated you?
David Choong Lee has been one of my favorite artists since I was in high school. When I was introduced to him by a friend in Korea, I decided to come to San Francisco and study at the Academy of Art University.

Your artistic leanings are towards murals, paintings and drawings. What made you choose the Academy’s School of Fine Art?
I wanted to work on my own ideas, so I chose Fine Art painting.

"5 Ways to Leave Your Lover," by Jae Chan Lee

Who are your favorite painters?
It is hard to pick just one. Oliver Vernon is someone I admire. I met him, and he said, “The point is to be yourself.” That was good advice.

Are you influenced by any particular style?
Patterns, colors and styles of a particular painting group can influence but not overwhelm my work. I am not trying to copy another painter’s work. We are all different.

"Moods for April," by Jae Chan Lee
"Exercise for Destruction," by Jae Chan Lee

Are you influenced more by reference or imagination?
Both, but the images in my head are more of an influence than reference.

What is your favorite aspect of painting?
That depends on how I feel as I work on a piece. Sometimes I am satisfied when I finish a piece. I used to focus on this more than I do now. I want to keep learning. It is a lifelong job. I feel I can learn from anything—including nature, people and influences beyond my instructors. That is why my painting keeps changing. The role of the universe and nature is constant change. My work reflects this.

"Post Leavenworth," by Jae Chan Lee
American Apparel tote bag; commissioned work by Jae Chan Lee

Do you have any advice for fellow painters?
Just that you should always think. Anyone can learn a skill, but the thinking behind the work is what distinguishes a great artist. The thinking is what cannot be taught.

What are your goals after graduation?
I would like to teach and would love to stay in the San Francisco Bay Area.

"How to Draw," by Jae Chang Lee

What experiences were most valuable to you prior to coming to the Academy of Art University?
I began painting and drawing in high school and created murals, graphic designs and anything else I could do to get experience. During this time, I learned as much about what I didn’t know and needed to learn.

Jae Chan Lee at work

What and how do you want to communicate in your art?
I want to express my ideas with images, and I prefer to express myself visually and speak through art without having to discuss it. To me, discussion is valid when I am very educated on the subject. Since I was young, I tend to talk less and want to discuss things I know. My art is a way to speak without the words.

Jae Chan Lee

Learn more about the art of Jae Chan Lee.

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