Meticulous brushwork and intelligently — if inexplicably — composed scenarios populate “New Works by Katherine Lee, Featuring Fire, Flags and Sacrifice.” Absent of any discernible narratives, Lee’s latest paintings are instead rife with ominous undertones, making their familiar-ness especially disorienting; the handful on view have a ghostly, just-vacated air. “Exterior 23,” with its clothesline and cinderblock fencing, seems at first like an ordinary backyard. But the rayless sky feels sinister, and the shabby fence encloses the yard like a crypt. The overgrown grass is a matted, dirty green carpet on which a plastic dining set is placed ignorantly but unignorably apart from the fire pit to the right, whose contents smolder quietly within a ring of stones.
Elsewhere, the viewer’s sense of disquiet mutates into outright discomfort. Circus-tent red and white patterns adorn columns in “Exterior 28,” forming a macabre arena around the cement ground. Just off center is a slain ox, alone and bleeding from the head. The scene affects a violence that’s complete: both obscene and inexorably intimate. In “Exterior 25” a blue building is reflected in the windows of a storefront, whose sole contents are a small but raging fire, placed on deranged display for passersby.
If these paintings weren’t as good as they are, we’d rub our eyes and shake off the shivers after looking at them, happy to leave behind scary dreams we only fuzzily remember. Katherine Lee, though, is conscientiously, unwaveringly precise. She’s carved out her own brand of can’t-look-away realism: spooky and even menacing, but always in control.