Ladies and gentlemen, we present to you the extraordinary Céli Lee, an artist who is building her own universe with unusual sensitivity towards nature, myth, and of course, graphite.
–Interview by Heather McCalden
Hello Céli! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Could you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
I’m a London based multidisciplinary artist, working across the fields of drawing, sculpture, film and performance.
That’s an impressive breadth of mediums there. Could you tell us about your creative process, from an initial idea to the finished piece?
Normally I always carry a little notebook and a pen with me everywhere, I write down my thoughts, sketches, just like writing a diary everyday. I like to reread my old notebooks and find inspirations from them. The working process is always the same: work hard and follow my heart without making any compromise.
How do you conceptualise/construct a piece? Do you think of it as a story, snapshot, or abstraction?
The concept can come from anything, a story, a dream, a person’s face, an organic form, the society we live in, news or an illusion. I like to indulge myself, set my mind free, as I believe the work becomes alive when you enjoying the freedom.
Organic forms seem to pepper your work. Forms that look like they belong to the natural world, but are somehow unfamiliar. Can you talk about how biological forms influence your style or chosen subject?
I always like to observe nature, especially the micro world which is invisible to our eyes. I’m fascinated by its structures, movements and textures. It’s just like another different universe. Every time when I’m looking at them, my imagination starts to flow just like opening a pandora box.
What’s your relationship to colour?
I like to be surrounded by colours, but while I’m working, I prefer black and white, I use colour only when I feel the artwork needs it.
We loved your piece for Issue IV, and it’s interpretation of the subject matter (Death & Resurrection). Do you have a favourite subject-matter? What’s the particular attraction?
Apocalypse, death and love, myth, alchemy. I’m fascinated with destruction, not just because of the view of melancholy but also the new possibilities buried underneath. I love things that can’t be explained with rational, things that don’t exist in reality.
Your work seems to hover between moving and still images. How do you create motion in your drawings and conversely, a sense of stillness in your short films?
I like to contain a sense of motion in my drawings, which makes them alive and engaging. I normally draw 2-3 gestures in one frame, then I find a way to connect them together. While I’m working with film, the moments when nothing happens are the most interesting ones, it’s just like the calm before the storm, that’s where all the tension and emotion generates.
As you have a choice of mediums to work with, what particularly appeals to you about working in graphite?
The texture, the rendering process line by line, also working without colour I can concentrate more on the composition, the form and fully developing the idea.
Do you have a favourite piece of yours?
變形記, in English means “The metamorphosis”.
What other materials do you enjoy using?
Chalk, ink, coffee, wax, clay, animal bone, wood, dried plants.
Favourite pencil: Wood? Mechanical? Other?
Faber Castell’s 0.35mm mechanical pencil.
We’re also a fan of fine leads. In terms of work scale, what size do you tend to work at? Do you have a preferred scale?
Really big and really small. I’m an extreme person, don’t tend to stay in the middle ground.
What do you think has most influenced and inspired your vision?
Observing nature and people.
Could you tell us what your early process of drawing was like?
Imitate, imitate and imitate. Quite painful in a way, as you don’t really find your own style, every drawing you do is a mirror of someone else’s work. But I do believe this is essential stage.
Well the pain appears to be worth it now. We fell in love with your style the moment we saw it. We’re also fans of your other work, including your immersive art project — The Unlimited Dream Company? Could you tell us a bit about that?
The Unlimited Dream Company was founded by my partner Sergio Calderón and myself in 2012, aiming to create a platform that opening up a dialogue which encourages audience to contribute creatively and collaborate with artists, musicians, filmmakers and technologists. We believe art lives in every day life and every single human being. We create concepts, performances and artworks that encourage people to communicate and get inspired with each other.
That already sounds inspiring! What directions are you interested in taking your work in the future?
Storytelling. I would like to build my own universe.
Well, we’ll definitely come visit you! Lastly, a few quick-fire questions:
Right or left-handed?
Coffee, nicotine, or booze?
None, doze with green tea and orange juice.
Last film you saw in the cinema?
The Salt of the Earth by Wim Wenders.
What books are on your bedside table?
Necronomicon by H.P.Lovecraft.
Favourite city in the world?
Favourite city to draw/sketch/illustrate/create in?
Does London inspire you?
In a way, it does.
Céli also features in Issue 4 of Tiny Pencil: The Death & Resurrection Issue! Available to buy here.
This interview was brought to you by Heather McCalden & The Tiny Pencil – fine purveyors of the pencil arts. Follow us on twitter @TheTinyPencil, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram for the latest news on all of our new anthology artzines.