The idea that being creative is only limited by the imagination remains in conflict with the idea that art is expensive to make and highly profitable.

—Evan Lee

Lee has a keen interest in the social construct of “value.” How are objects or works of art produced and circulated? Why is a higher value placed on certain items or artworks and not others, even if their production requirements are similar?


In contrast to the “fake” diamonds used to produce Fugazi (2016), the gems pictured in Captives/Adamas (2020) are “genuine” diamonds of high quality and price. In these photographs, however, the diamonds appear in an unfamiliar form—they are uncut. Through extensive focus and exposure stacking—a macro-photography technique where limited depth-of-field requires areas of exposure and focus to be composited together—Lee captures these otherworldly rough gems as objects of great value that have yet to come into existence.

This idea of the “yet to emerge” is reflected in the first half of the title, Captives, which refers to Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures where partially carved figures emerge from rough, untouched marble. The second half points to the Greek origin of the word “diamond”: Adamas, meaning “invincible, indestructible and unyielding.”

The duality produced by these two seemingly disparate words suggests the paradoxical values we hold in contemporary culture: captive, yet emergent; indestructible, yet unformed—manifesting in cultural obsessions with eternal youth and abundance.

Production — Process
Image Credits: Production stills from Captives / Adamas (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Monte Clark Gallery.


Polish Paintings (2021) continues Lee’s trajectory of experimental paintings made using nontraditional materials. Common household shoe polish—a waxy substance that produces an effect similar to paint—here creates a series of glossy veneers that reference the high status of the “black square monochrome painting” during the modern art era of the 1950s and ’60s. Such historical paintings continue to fetch millions of dollars at auction, and Lee urges us to consider the value we place on objects and artworks through these substitutes that reference the occupation of shoe shiners and the classism inherent in the economy of artistic production

Production — process
Image Credits: Production stills from Polish Paintings (2021). Courtesy of the artist.

Q: You are often referred to as a post-photographic artist—someone who responds to the flood of digital images in the twenty-first century by challenging our perception of what constitutes a photo—and many of your works critique the tropes of both photography and painting. How do the concerns of both these mediums inform your work as a conceptual artist?  

Evan Lee, Polish Paintings, shoe polish on panel, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Monte Clark Gallery.