His painted portraits capture human emotion as realistically as a photographer could. Bodies in mid-motion with expressions that vary from frustration and sternness to seductive and humorous. His subjects are his peers. The fashionable, artsy types, as well as his surfing buds. You could call it post-realism portraiture, and the whole experience might suggest that he's the John Singer Sargent of the American Apparel-generation, but if that company ever wanted to get really creative with its advertising, then they should definitely give Anh Le a call.
“A majority of the work I was doing while in school depicted my classmates,” says Le, reflecting on when he first started painting while at school at the Massachusetts School of Art and Design. “And it being an art school, it wasn't uncommon to have the work look like some hipster spread.”
Le grew up in the suburbs of Boston, where, he says, people live to raise families and “kids drink in the woods.”
What brought him out here?
“Surf.” He says he “started surfing, and that was it—I was hooked. It's funny because, to me, painting and surfing are so similar. They both happen to be very lonely activities. I guess if you're a tortured soul like myself, you couldn't pay for better therapy.”
For the cover of this week's print issue, CityBeat chose Le's “Un-believable!”—a painting that truly reflects the other big passion in his life: women.
The image is “about the relationship between guy and girl, or maybe it just illustrates my experience with women. I'd like to think most guys relate to what I'm referring to. It's that act of seeing a beautiful, completely unapproachable girl but attempting to talk to her, anyway. When I had asked my friend Kimara, who upon first glance is beautiful and completely unapproachable herself, her response was, ‘So, you want me to be a bitch?' I said, ‘Yeah, pretty much.' But in that moment, I realized that here was this girl who, justified or not, gets pigeonholed all the time mainly because of the way she looks. So we took the idea one step further, and instead of making the painting about the negative response of women towards men, we gave it a positive spin.”
While he's had a few art shows in coffeehouses and at Basic, the Downtown pizza restaurant and bar, Le's still looking for that big exhibition that will get his name out there before he heads to grad school in hopes of teaching one day.
“A part of me thinks I haven't been out here long enough to get a pulse on it, while another part of me thinks that maybe I'm not being proactive enough,” he says. But if you want it bad enough, you find a way to make it happen. Besides, I do get to surf anytime I want, so you make that trade.”