Lee Musgrave

Lee Musgrave is the recipient of an American National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and his work has been exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions. He specializes in abstract painting and photography. His paintings were featured in a major exhibit at the Museum of Northwest Art last year, and he recently received several international awards for his abstract photography which was featured in the Berlin Foto Biennale in Berlin, Germany and in Novus Conceptum at the Hannah Burch Gallery, Houston, TX. Lee lives in High Prairie, Washington.


It is my habit to crush or cut up waste materials before discarding them and often I throw some of it onto a light pad in search for serendipitous “visual” surprises. If what I see holds my attention I photograph it. By chance among the objects on the pad the day the Fiddle Diddle Series was photographed were a rubber gasket, three different gauges of wire and several bits of plastic wrappers (including the red bean image). Seven days later, when I shot the Joyous Misbehavin’ images on the pad were parts of a child’s pinwheel, several broken objects including flower shaped hair clips, hors d’oeuvres picks, a bubble wand, plastic shot classes, spoons, and a knife as well as the rubber gasket and some of the assorted wrappers.

The light passing through and around these odd assortments of objects held them together in an engaging way and created a wonderful array of color tints and tones. I photographed each random grouping then shook the pad to see if the effect held in a new arrangement. It did, so I photographed them again and repeated that process several times… occasionally adding and or discarding objects as I proceeded… ending with these two enchanting series whose visual appeal transcends their social statement about our consumer-centric society and concentrates instead on the elegance found within the chaos.

The resulting photographs provide an opportunity for viewers to embrace unpredictability within an approach that values intuition and expressionism… where serendipitous encounters channel risk in the experience of observing and honoring the historic art principle of ‘taking advantage of chance.'

Cropping the photographs is my way of featuring their individual charisma and creating dynamic compositions of visual aesthetics. Further, I prefer a visual language that explores and refines the shallow picture plane and cropping accentuates that preference.

My objective is to place the viewer at the moment with each image; to suspend them between imagination and reality thereby suggesting the unseen: those elemental phenomena we live by like vim, verve, and oomph.

By selecting and isolating settings from their context, I pull images from reality into vernacular abstraction. In this way, the photographs explore the relationship between impartial objects and personal perception, focusing on the subtleties that produce multiple layers of experience.

Though my photography is considered abstract, it is completely realistic. I use realism as a medium – as a means to record my personal non-verbal responses to what I see before me and how immersion in it makes me feel whole. I am primarily a romantic who through selective cropping of realistic images reveals my personal inner world of mystical experiences.

The only computer processes applied to my photographs is the cleaning or cloning over of small distractive spots.

While chance runs counter to most people’s conceptions of art, it has been a vital component of it since its very beginning, and the images I capture are evocative of that history.

To me, the inescapable appeal of these images is immediate and expressive of spontaneous gestures that are based on insights gained from my many years of creating abstract work.

Most contemporary photography has been occupied with recurrent narrative, political and gender-based themes… and probably always will be. When it turns inward to express beauty and visual aesthetic pleasure it usually drifts toward surrealism and fantasy, but still well within the representational genre. At the root of those creative processes is the sixth sense of instinctive intellectual drive. It flashes before our eyes, holds us and pulls us in and says ‘don’t miss this.' That trice is what abstract photography is all about. It goes directly toward one's inner thoughts, makes us pause and takes us beyond provocation and coincidence to a visual epistle that transcends our fundamental understanding of life.