Name: Gianni Lee
Location: Los Angeles
Occupation: Visual artist, International DJ, and Fashion designer
Gianni Lee was born and raised in West Philadelphia, PA. (Yep, go ahead and sing the intro to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air – you know you want to!) As a middle school student, Lee was a part of the “mentally gifted” class and accredits his West Philly upbringing with his motivation to pursue and develop his abilities within the arts. Following high school, he studied Communications and Broadcasting at Temple University, where he was exposed to opportunities in music and marketing. This led to gigs as a party promoter where Lee amassed a following in the club scene and gained a reputation for bringing out huge crowds. His knack for the party life evolved into making dance music and crafting his own blend of progressive melodies and live instruments into the up-tempo Baltimore/Philly club genres. But his love for visual art wasn’t far behind in his creative vision.
After college, Lee made the move to Los Angeles, California for more opportunities in music and fashion. Exploring the world of fine art was soon to follow. As Lee recalls, a few of his friends saw him painting graffiti for the first time at SXSW and thought it was cool. Based on that response he decided to get a studio and hone his innate skill as a painter. His canvas’ displayed what he couldn’t express on-line or with his music. From Dragonball Z sketches in middle school to SXSW and the present, Lee continues to create personal, meaningful art and is working on various music projects with artists in the dance music world. His ultimate goal is to play his music in front of large festival crowds.
EBONY: Can you tell us about your recent art show, ‘Why Won’t You Hear Me?’ I attended your opening show and would love to share your thoughts with our readers.
Gianni Lee: My recent art show was called ‘Why Don’t You Hear Me?’ It’s a collection of work that I’ve created since I started painting. It was basically my introduction into the art world. I just wanted people to see what I was capable of. I think that was the main driving force behind it, just to show people that I really do paint. If you really want to see into my world, you have to come to the show to see it. I was really apprehensive about showing pieces because I wanted people to come and experience it in person. It was really eye-opening for me because I just never really stepped into that space and for it to be my first show. I just started painting a year ago and I landed a big gallery in New York. That’s super huge.
It just shows how many people are interested in art. One thing that I’ve learned is that art is colorblind. You know what I mean? Everybody regardless of race, sexual orientation, height, everybody likes art. Young, old. It’s a good way to get a lot of people to fall in love with your work because there’s really nothing stopping anybody from coming. It’s not like music, where there might be a generational gap and certain people might not get it. Fashion is the same thing. Art is the one thing that can bring all of those people together.
Having an art show, that’s the centerpiece that brings everybody that I know from all different walks of life and all different scenes. I can bring them together and I feel like that’s the most beautiful part about this experience.
EBONY: What was your inspiration behind the JET Magazine cover painting?
Gianni Lee: Well JET Magazine is just….The name alone, it’s three letters. I’m really into typography, I like the logo and the way it’s designed. It’s my people. It’s our history. I was watching a documentary called The 13th and it was talking about the 13th Amendment and the civil and racial unrest in Mississippi. That article or that issue in particular was really shedding light on it because it wasn’t really getting reported. JET Magazine at the time was really doing that. It was really giving people a clear and accurate depiction of Black culture. The way they reported things, it was like the Black New York Times or New York Magazine. It was very good content and it was the best way you could think of Black people being depicted. I thought as a Black person, it made sense for me to use that inspiration because I knew Black people would gravitate towards it because of that name alone.
It was my depiction of how I see JET Magazine through my eyes, through my lens, which is very whimsical and post-apocalyptic. Futuristic also.
EBONY: Can you give us some insight on your artistic creative process?
Gianni Lee: My creative process goes like this. I need a lot of space around me. I would rather people not be there, but if they are, I only like them there when I already get into the mood of painting. If I’m painting, you can hang around because I’ll just talk to you while I’m painting. Leading up to that, I don’t really like people being around. I need a lot of music playing. I’ll have speakers around just to get me in the mood. Also, I like a lot of Swiss materials around. That’s books, magazines, images playing on a projector, anything to get me going. I like a lot of things going on around me. I need a lot of light. I don’t like creating in dim light at all. I need it to be brighter than a cafeteria. I get inspired by everything around me. It’s always good to have friends, people that you really connect with and f–k with. That can push you and you can also push them because it’s good to have those conversations.
EBONY: What do you hope people gained from viewing your work at the art show?
Gianni Lee: I hope they gain a level of awareness. I hope they understand that this world isn’t really set up for anybody to make it unless they have the money or the resources. We need to start figuring out how to mobilize and get those resources and get that backing. Once again, we have to leave the nest and we have to meet other people and we need to make alliances. We just really need to step up to the plate. We can’t keep complaining about, “Oh, that’s not made for us. Blah, blah, blah.” Yeah, I get it. It’s not, but it’s never been made for us. What’s going to change in 2017 versus 1957? It’s going to take some time. Progression takes time, but we can’t wait around for it. I hope when people see my paintings, they see that there are people even in the paintings. They’re fighting for our freedom and we need to continue to fight for that, regardless of any circumstance and any situation.
No one was there telling me, “You should do this. You should do that.” Everybody was telling me that you couldn’t. “You can’t do this. You can’t do that.” It was really one special person in my life that told me, “You know what? You should paint. You should do this.” That’s what got me to this point. I always thank her for that. It just showed me what’s my real purpose in this world. What’s my purpose on this earth? Is it to make work or is it to push other people to make work? I feel like it’s to push other people because when it’s all said and done and you leave, what have you done? We have to give back. We have to. We’ve got to, man.
EBONY: What are five things people don’t know about you?
Gianni Lee: 1. People don’t know that I can cook, especially a lot of little vegan meals or fake vegan meals.
2. I’m really into the outdoors. I hike, but I go past the whole Runyon Canyon wave in L.A. I also like to snowboard.
3. I’ve been putting my voice on tracks. I wouldn’t call myself a singer, but a lot of the new music I’ve been producing, I’ve been supplementing vocals of other people with my own vocals. To give it a lower range in the bottom section. I’ve been singing over the top of people, singing low.
4. I’m an asshole. I’m such an ass. If I’m an asshole, I must be sensitive because I’m feeling a range of emotions. Yeah, I just like to f–k with people if that makes any sense. I like to just push buttons but in a cool way. Not in a mean, evil-spirited way.
5. I hate getting dressed. I hate clothes. I really do.
EBONY: What are five goals you’d like to accomplish by the end of the year?
Gianni Lee: 1. I would love to act in some way in a future film. I want to start auditioning more and getting into that, but I definitely want to see myself on film by the end of the year.
2. I want to drop a new collection of Babylon Cartel by the end of the year.
3. I want to be in at least two more big galleries by the end of the year. One in Miami for Art Basel and either here in New York or overseas somewhere.
4. I want to somehow land a deal with a brand that really allows me to flex my creativity and my muscle. I don’t want to just work with a brand where they give me free clothes and pay me to post something. At this point right now, I feel like it’s time for me to transition into actually making money with these brands. Showing them my vision and figuring out a way to create something people consume or bring something to market.
5. I want to go on tour by the end of the year and open up for somebody cool as an opening DJ set or something like that, but I definitely want to go on tour.