Take one look at Lee Lai’s wildly imaginative work & it’s no wonder we picked her for our 12th run of Random Acts of Art. The first Melbourne-based artist to give our bags new life, Lai & her maze of coffee creatures have eaten our hearts out (seriously though, they’ve got an appetite)!
Read on to learn about Lai’s tendency for visual repetition, a fittingly Melbourne-inspired colour palette, & the coffee scene in Montreal.
WHAT’S THE STORY BEHIND THESE CRAZY, CANNIBALISTIC CREATURES ON OUR BAGS?
I’m actually writing a story right about a child and her auntie creating a wild, escapist world for themselves and transforming into toothy, ecstatic creatures in secret. These coffee monsters are a little similar! I find that when I’m hooked on painting a certain kind of line, it appears throughout all the projects I’m working on.
I don’t know if these creatures are actually going for the kill — I think they might be just playing.
DESCRIBE YOUR EVOLUTION AS AN ARTIST. WHAT LED YOU TO CREATE COMICS?
I love stories, so the evolution from an illustration practice to a comics one was an obvious choice. When I was a teenager I was deeply attached to animation, so I suppose I have a penchant for intensely laborious projects that involve a lot of repetition.
WE SEE YOU’VE GOT A LOVE AFFAIR WITH GREYS AND BLUES! HOW DID YOU LAND ON THE SIGNATURE, MOODY COLOUR PALETTE FEATURED IN SO MUCH OF YOUR WORK?
Haha, if you see me in person you’d notice I tend to wear all of the same colour too. I love bright colours but for some reason I find a consistent muted palette really stabilising– it allows me to explore a lot with other artistic principles while knowing that the colours are something I can count on. Plus, embarrassingly enough, all my stories end up being kind of emotional and dark so I guess it’s appropriate.
YOUR WORK GIVES THE VIEWER SUCH A RAW & INTIMATE LOOK AT RELATIONSHIPS. HOW DO YOU FIND YOUR INSPIRATION?
I guess I find inspiration in the obvious ways: drawing from life and personal experience a lot. You could call it a kind of therapy I suppose, writing out the things that are buzzing around my head all the time anyway. Connection is vital, and cartooning can be really solitary, so it’s nice labouring over something that is still all about the interpersonal.
THOUGHTS ON COFFEE? ARE YOU MORE OF A CAFÉ-GOER OR A MAKE-IT-AT-HOME KIND OF PERSON?
I love coffee, but my tolerance for caffeine goes up and down. Sometimes it sends me into a pit of anxiety, but when I’m doing alright in my life it’s the most wonderful thing in the world.
I live mostly in Montreal now where the coffee isn’t as good as it is in Australia, so it’s less of an affair now and I usually drink it at home. Coffee here tends to be part of the classic diner breakfast, as a bottomless cup of grainy filter brew. It’s the best when you have a couple of friends to share the experience, and a few hours to burn while you get jittery from drinking too much of it.