Vancouver's Tim Lee wins $50,000 Sobey Art Award

Vancouver's Tim Lee has won the $50,000 Sobey Art Award, given since 2002 to a promising young Canadian artist under age 40.

Vancouver's Tim Lee has won the $50,000 Sobey Art Award, given since 2002 to a promising young Canadian artist under age 40.

Lee was announced as the winner at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto on Wednesday evening.

His work and the work of four other finalists for the award, each of whom win $5,000, is on display at the ROM. The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia has already showed work by the finalists, who are chosen from each region of the country by curators familiar with the work of young artists.

This year's jury hailed Lee for the "visual impact" of his work. 

"His work is a meditation on the unreliability of vision and the shifting nature of identity," the jury said in a statement.

Lee's work, which combines images of personalities such as Neil Young, Glenn Gould and Steve Martin with sound and other media in a way that comments on the creative process, has been exhibited around the world.

His The Goldberg Variations, Aria, BVW 988 1941, Johann Sebastian Bach (Glenn Gould 1981) was shown at the 2008 Sydney Biennale.

"If I was to condense the process behind my work, it's more about other people's creativity," he told CBC News. "Thinking or writing about other artists helps me reflect on my own practice."

His Goldberg Variationsincludes video of his own hands playing the piece on a keyboard, a reflection of Gould's fascination with using electronic engineering to make a recording perfect. But Lee's fingering is discordant, creating the effect of a struggle to create.

Focusing on seminal moments

Lee works with photography, video, text and sculpture to reinterpret seminal moments in the careers of his artistic heroes.

"If you think about someone's career — take that of Neil Young — you can think of several different moments in time that are tipping points into something new," Lee said.

His My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue), Hey, Hey, My My (Into the Black) features images of Lee playing the Neil Young song on both acoustic and electric guitar, pinpointing a defining moment in Young's career.

Other works refer to Bobby Orr and Ted Williams. Lee calls his references to well-known figures "simple strategies" but admits he layers them together to show how culture manifests itself differently as we move through time.

"My work is articulating my own creative abilities through theirs," Lee said.

Lee is a full-time artist working out of Vancouver, and says his art has introduced him to a global community of creative people. His next exhibit is in Sao Paulo and he has exhibited in New York, London and Berlin.

The other finalists for the Sobey Art Award were:

  • Daniel Barrow of Winnipeg.
  • Terence Koh of Mississauga, Ont.
  • Raphaëlle de Groot of Montreal.
  • Mario Doucette of Moncton.

The award was given at a gathering that included a who's who of the art community in Canada.

William Thorsell, chief executive of the ROM, could not resist a jibe a Prime Minister Harper's comments last week about ordinary Canadians not caring about the arts.

He congratulated the young artists on their work ahead of the announcement and said: "I can assure you that ordinary Canadians are not indifferent to your works...Artists of every kind touch the soul of this country and the soul of this country is sacred."