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Tracey Harnish

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Patrick Lee: Deadly Friends

Posted: 07/27/11 04:21 PM ET

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Deadly Friends (Peckerwood), 2009, Graphite on paper, 36 x 24 inches,

Photo by Anthony Cunha, Courtesy of Western Project

Photorealism does not especially intrigue me, but in Patrick Lee's work, the technique is just the starting point for further revelations. Lee's graphite portraits of men are meticulous down to the very pores that sprout whiskers. The figures are set in a style reminiscent of the early 1900s, with heads floating in a limbo of whiteness, and I am reminded of the decades old black and white photos of my grandmother's family. Yet these portraits are startling contemporary insights into the society of men. Bald heads, scars, tattoos and ethnically diverse, these men virtually wear the stories of their lives on their necks, faces, and heads. In a culture where youth is trumpeted no matter the class or color of the individual, it's an interesting relief to see men, instead of kids, depicted here. These are men who clearly have lived lives of intensity and peril and are part of a society that signals their wounds with physical visuals.

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Deadly Friends (East Side), 2011, Graphite on paper, 24 x 36 inches,

Photo by Anthony Cunha, Courtesy of Western Project

The story of each image reads masculine and macho, yet with the squint of an eye or the tilt of a head, vulnerability is suddenly revealed. Not only is a personal story told, but a sliver of our society is laid bare as well.

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Deadly Friends (Head #18), 2009, Graphite on paper, 36 x 24 inches, Photo by Anthony Cunha, Courtesy of Western Project


One of the standout pieces is an image of the back of a shaven head, where a large puckering scar curls from the top of the head and ends at a big protruding ear. This declaration of violence survived is like the map of a life, one that most gallery goers are familiar with only through film and TV. By making this image worthy of a portrait, a portrait being something remembered, valued, and even passed down to future generations; it becomes a testament to the continuation of life.

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Deadly Friends (Head #16), 2008, Graphite on paper, 36 x 24 inches,
Photo by Anthony Cunha, Courtesy of Western Project

Patrick Lee's recent show was at Western Project.