A summer palette of turquoise, yellow and poppy red – plus the occasional hint of fluorescent green and deep purple – sweeps through the work of illustrator Dura Lee. Like something from a blissful dream, these rocky landscapes and beachy scenes are filled with Chinese motifs – there are carp, the symbol of strength and perseverance, as well as lotus flowers – formulaic architecture, and various grid systems.
Although peculiar and intentionally confusing, the work appears to have taken the serene and small moments of the illustrator’s daily life as their starting point. Then, these moments are plucked and moulded into a digital form, where hidden messages are inserted in abundance, distorting all sense of the familiar.
Initially planning to build a career in fashion, Dura studied oriental painting and fashion design during her college years. Something clicked and all of a sudden she had a strong desire to create a graphic novel. “I’ve always wanted to write a book,” she tells It’s Nice That. This would then turn into a continuous love affair with the medium.
Watching Peter Greenaway’s crime-drama film The cook, the thief, his wife and her lover at the age of 16 “totally” changed Dura’s life. Within the film, the director has created a fabricated land, where the wife of an abusive criminal finds solace in the words of a kind regular in her husband’s restaurant. Made with flair, it’s a wicked tale that deftly and delectably mixes art and food.
Shortly after watching the film, Dura applied to art college. “At that moment, it immediately confirmed that I wanted to do art in any form,” she continues. “Since then, there have always been films in my life.” This can be anything from David Lynch, more from Peter Greenaway, Leos Carax, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Lars Von Trier, all of the “masterpieces that lead me to think and create a scene to draw”.
An example of which can be seen in Dura’s debut graphic novel, Youth and Island, which is deeply inspired by cinema. The angles and framing appear to be hugely marked up on perspective – like the stair corridor leading down to a yellow bank where a carp is swimming. Or there’s the dual-panelled scene of two landscapes, one of which sees a secluded tree alone in a pinky desert, the second depicting a seaside spot where a character sits with her catch.
Achieved by reading and sketching throughout the day, Dura’s illustrations are predominantly transformed on the computer. Preferring to use graphic tools for sketches means she’s able to experiment in a variety of ways. “When I draw something suitable to print on lithography or silkscreen,” she adds, “then I go to the print studio to work on it.”
Alongside working on an upcoming exhibition, Dura tells us how she’s recently been working on a piece titled Memories of Red, and is currently mapping out a new story. Unsure of where it’s going to take her, she says “it might come out in the form of a book or just an illustration”. One thing’s certain, however – it’s her favourite project yet. “It’s about loving a beautiful person; the main character is so fascinated and occupied by this strong feeling, but she knows it will eventually fade away and destroy part of her life somehow. So, there is also fear.”
Dura’s audience is invited to feel the strangeness and beauty found within her work – both at the same time. “Two-sided feelings and circumstances are things I always find fascinating. It’s like a city; it’s very complicated, but feels totally empty sometimes. It looks fancy and shabby at the same time. The funny thing is that both those sides are needed.”