The Toronto-based artist depicts naked bodies contorting and cuddling together. These illustrations are both comforting and melancholy, exploring body dysmorphia, sensuality, and the natural human urge for contact. 


Ness Lee’s illustrations and ceramics often call to mind the warm cosiness of a cuddle, but there is something else at play too. Sometimes an overwhelming feeling of melancholy sits in her subjects’ eyes, and while many works depict tumbling groups of people, others feature a lone figure wrapping her limbs around herself.


“Looking back now, it started with trying to represent emotions on a page,” the artist tells me. “When I started to do these drawings, I was really trying to love myself and love my body. I began to explore feelings of sexuality and accepting myself as enough.


Not quite fitting in or feeling part of much growing up, I think I really craved examples of what it can be to thrive and feel free. I gravitated towards affectionate embraces simply because I wanted to be held; I wanted to remember how affection can feel. 


I can see a lot of it came from growing up Hakka, with the confusion of East and Southeast Asian traditions, living in Canada, and understanding a different version of love and care that is not the westernized projection of affection.”

Illustration by Ness Lee. | Painting illustration, Illustration, Print

The artist’s monochrome works are gorgeously rendered, with simple thick black lines, inky flowing human hair, and bodies that seem to bend and twist in spite of their natural physiology.

Forks Public Art: Ness Lee & birdO | The Forks

They capture what it means to connect with a human body, whether your own or someone else’s, and have a sense of exploration about them, moving in unexpected ways to find some new kind of closeness.

How Hakka-Chinese Canadian Artist Ness Lee Crafted Her Own Asian ...

“I now understand I was experiencing varying levels of body dysmorphia,” Lee tells me. “I couldn’t quite grasp the body I was in and I didn’t really understand the ideals that were being presented in the media: what a beautiful body was; why was it always thin; ideas of gender binaries.

I felt my body fluctuate often, which I feel furthered my thinking on what closeness really is, and how physicality can be a feeling and can leave a mark on you.”


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