Mia Lee USA, b. 1992


Mia Lee is a multi-media artist whose practice includes painting, illustration, animation, and design. Lee’s practice is deeply influenced by nostalgia for the people, places, and experiences of her youth. The figures and landscapes in her paintings take shape in a liminal space between dream life and reality, a perceptual zone in which angels and monsters coexist, and are sometimes hard to tell apart.

Lee grew up on the South Side of Chicago. Her family immigrated from the Honduran island of Roatán. Her grandparents and parents are artists, musicians, and designers. Their embrace of multiple mediums and forms influenced Lee’s development as an artist, encouraging her to embrace experimentation with any medium or mode of expression that fits her ideas.

Inspiration for Lee’s aesthetic universe comes from a mixture of her Caribbean cultural roots, American visual culture, and her own vivid dream life.

“I have recurring dreams that have nightmarish qualities,” says Lee, “but I love them. It depends how you perceive it. My dreams are so vivid, I also have a blurred line between my concept of reality and the things that happen in my dream life. All of these things contribute to my different narratives. If I paint it, maybe it happened for real, or maybe it didn’t happen, but that’s my truth. These things I paint I believe to be true.”

Hints about the narratives in Lee’s paintings are embedded in the titles, which are inspired by the lyrics of old R&B and disco songs, but the figures are portrayed in thickly textured, white void, allowing viewers to engage with the content through their own imagination.

“My scenes are neutral. I don’t use backgrounds,” says Lee. “If I’m telling a story and someone else is perceiving it, they can place the characters anywhere they want.”

Lee’s thick surfaces are built up with a mixture of joint compound, acrylics, and house paint, while the skin of the figures is painted with impasto layers of black gesso.

“I use the richest colors I can find,” says Lee. “I try to make the colors as vivid as possible, because of how vivid my dreams are. And I portray my figures coming from the Black diaspora, which is so rich and vast. If anything is muted, it won’t come off as I perceive it.”