Lee in front of her piece Tell Me Where is Fancy Bred, Or in the Heart or in the Head? 2019. Plasma-cut steel, 40 x 50 x 43 inches. Image courtesy of Courtney Potter ’21.

Julieta Lessne ’24 (she/ her)

Julieta: How are you today?

Adrienne: Great. Thanks for asking! How are you?

Julieta: I’m good. Thank you. So my first question is when did your love for creating art begin and how?

Adrienne: I don’t think I can assign that to a single moment in my life. There was no pivotal point in my life where I was like, oh, this is it. Think back to when you were a kid, when everyone likes to draw stuff. But then there are others who begin to really question it, I think, over time. I think that’s what separated me from my classmates or friends, understanding that I loved art.

Julieta:  So was it an obvious choice for you to be an art major at Davidson? How did you make that decision? 

Adrienne: Making that decision is a completely different story because I did get here through Early Decision. But had I not done that, I was admitted to the Art Institute of Chicago [SAIC] through the regular decision process. If I had to choose between that, Davidson’s Early Decision “binding” aside, I would have still chosen Davidson because I was interested in neuroscience and in the liberal arts education. My parents did ask me if I wanted to transfer to SAIC, but that didn’t make sense to me because I was developing a focal point in my art that was neuroscience-inspired. The language of neuroscience is important in my art.

Julieta: So would you say that neuroscience is what really inspires your art today?

Adrienne: Yeah. It started off as drawings and adaptations of visual representations of neural networks, but my artistic process developed into a conceptual thought. It became something that links neuroscience, the cognitive part of it, and self reflection. It became a way for me to understand myself through that process which nurtured my notion of identity in my art. Artists are always inquisitive of themselves. And for me, being self-inquisitive through neuroscience makes sense.

Julieta: So how would you describe your style?

Adrienne: It’s very gestural. The repeating forms originate from all the visual exposure I had in my neuroscience classes. I also started to incorporate Hangul, the Korean alphabet, into the tree-like structures. The visual forms come together under the same family, visually speaking. There’s one important detail about me: I’ve never lived in one country for more than three years and every three years, I was in a new country. This made me question my ethnicity, my nomadism, and my nomadic upbringing. So it’s important to me to address that complexity through that diversity of forms that come to me naturally — in gestures. 

Julieta: So do you have a preferred medium?

Adrienne: I find gestural freedom in steel. But when it comes to two dimensional canvases and drawings, then it’s typically pastel, charcoal, [and/or] watercolor. I don’t have a specific favorite.

Julieta: So to transition into discussing your final art exhibition at Davidson, was there sort of a theme in mind when you were creating it or do you think that there’s a theme when you look at it now? 

Adrienne: Everyone needs a certain theme for their own exhibition. I did not have a specific theme in mind until last year, March 2020. I was one of the few international students stuck on campus. I had all the time to be lost in the woods. That is when I started to bring in the tree-like, arboreal forms into my art. There is a reason why the title of my senior exhibition is “Ode to Self.” The complex visual forms in my work are, to me, quite poetic. I work with a lot of semantics and visual structures that try to find meaning about myself in terms of my ethnicity, in terms of my upbringing, and my super complicated cultural identity.

Julieta: Do you have a favorite piece in your exhibition?

Adrienne: I do want to say the Garden (Self-Portrait). It looks like a barricade or a fence. One of my friends — I’m going to quote him on this — said that it gave him a fight-or-flight response and that he felt so threatened by it. I love that. Garden reveals a part of me — how I have had to develop a thick skin to stay strong and to stay resilient throughout my upbringing.

Julieta: What do you hope people take away from viewing your exhibition, or what do you hope to problematize with it?

Adrienne: I want people to understand that bringing together visual art and neuroscience is possible. Their individualistic stereotypes need to go away. When you’re working in this niche, cross-disciplinary area at a liberal art institution such as Davidson, you need to understand that those stereotypes are exactly what block a lot of people’s creativity. 

Julieta: Thank you so much. 

“Ode to Self” was on display in the Smith Gallery from March 10–15, 2021. A virtual tour can be found here.

Adrienne Lee ‘21 (she/her/hers) is a Studio Art Major and Neuroscience Minor. She can be reached for comment at adlee@davidson.edu