Welcome to the cool world of Rik Lee
Skateboards, pin-ups, wolves, punk rock, American Traditional, gypsies, flipping the bird….odds are, if you’re reading this, at least half of those phrases made your ears prick up like a dog who hears the word “treat.” Whether you believe tattoos have inspired society or the inverse, one thing can’t be denied: the past few years have bore witness to tattoo culture bursting through the pop culture wall like the Kool-Aid Man with “LIVE FAST” inked on his knuckles. If doe-eyed damsels, sailor tattoos and grinning beasts were the crew of a ship, Rik Lee would be at the helm. “I enjoy the symbolism of certain objects,” he begins, “and the narratives you can achieve through juxtaposing these objects. Over the years I’ve tried to combine these classical influences with my modern interests like skateboarding, tattoo art, punk rock, teen angst and graphic design. I like to focus on the contrasts between my mediums, past and present subcultures, and social trends with a regard for design. Each illustration tends to be a clash of elements and influences that I attempt to present in one cohesive and visually attractive composition.”
He’s made his living illustrating tattooed ladies and iconic ink imagery for over a decade, incorporating his love for the subculture that spawned him with the imagery that inspires him. Lee’s work has a cinematic edge to it with each piece feeling like a single frame from a modern day film noir. Lee’s flawless depiction of the female form sets him apart from typical pin-up artists in two very noticeable ways: their beautifully expressive eyes, and the ink that adorns their skin. “As my work developed,” Lee says, “I began to take a real interest in illustrating people. Attempting to capture someone, their character and idiosyncrasies, in quick sketchbook portrait studies. Many of my friends had tattoos so I’d incorporate them into my work. If they didn’t have tattoos, I’d design my own and add them to the piece. I loved it and found it almost impossible to resist drawing tattoos on any exposed skin of these portrait drawings. It’s just something that I’ve continued to develop with my work, trying to improve my illustrations of people while designing and adding tattoos along the way.”
Lee is unhindered by a particular style, inking his beauties in Chicano lettering, Japanese iconography, even stick and poke style designs, whatever he feels would serve to compliment both the form of the woman and the story behind her. “I try to match the tattoo style with the subject I’m illustrating and the look I want them to have,” Lee explains. “For example, a while ago I drew a Japanese friend. She doesn’t actually have any tattoos, but she’s a massive Studio Ghibli fan, so I designed a heart-shaped chest piece featuring Totoro for her portrait. More recently I drew a lady with a 1980s inspired punk— No Wave look. I gave her crude, hand-made tattoos because I thought that would be more true to her style than, say, a perfect Japanese style sleeve.” The end result could best be compared to an iconic photo of Audrey Hepburn crossed with that smoking hot chick that bummed a smoke off of you outside a bar last weekend.
The mystique that surrounds Lee’s pin-ups shares the same air of intrigue that tattoos, especially Traditional American tattoos, exemplify. We’ve all caught a glimpse of a dagger or a snake peeking out of a cuff or a collar with a name or a quote written around it and immediately began to connect the dots in our mind to fabricate a storyline. The same can be said of Lee’s work. We wonder, what is he trying to express? The mark of a true artist is the ability to simply evoke a complex mental image, “I hope [people] like it!” Lee remarks. “I hope it sparks some interest, some emotion, some inspiration or motivation.”
The image at the top of this page is an exclusive drawing of Mary-Leigh Maxwell that Rik Lee was inclined to produce for you.
Welcome to the cool world of Rik Lee Skateboards, pin-ups, wolves, punk rock, American Traditional, gypsies, flipping the bird….odds are, if you’re reading this, at least half of those phrases made your ears prick up […]