It’s been a while for Brian Lee.
As co-founder of the The Nth˚ Gallery & Studios in downtown Boone, Lee prefers keeping in the background.
“I get just as much satisfaction in seeing other people’s shows,” he said, adding in a quick aside, “plus, you can’t smoke in the galleries.”
Maybe not, but like it or not, Lee’s a fixture at the Nth˚, and his first show dates back to 1997, a year after the studio’s founding.
While his pieces have turned up at various Nth˚ shows throughout the following decade and then some, Friday marks his first return to headlining.
“Why am I doing it now?” he asked rhetorically. “They made me. They would not let me not do it.”
He’s referring to fellow Nth˚ members, many of whom have been vocal about shoving Lee into the limelight.
That limelight is called “Been Awhile: Past and Present Works by C.B. Lee,” as the show features artwork that spans two decades, the newest of which include both paintings and sculptures.
“I’m not prolific,” Lee said. “I don’t do a lot of work. I’m still trying to figure out a style. Look around, and you can’t find a style.”
And that’s for a reason. “I can’t stand doing the same thing twice,” he said.
Some would argue that, in itself, is a style, as even his themed pieces are unique in their individuality.
Take the “tri-theme,” for instance, a series of paintings composed entirely of triangles.
“Like (computer-generated imagery) uses triangles to create everything, the three-sided aspect just struck me,” Lee said. “I was curious as to what I could create, just using three sides and figures and putting them together.”
The results include a downtown Boone street scene, featuring the once iconic street denizen, Joshua Watauga, titled “Chief Watauga,” and a pastoral scene of cows with condos and Christmas tries in the background, aptly titled “Cows, Condos and Christmas Trees.”
The tri-theme series covers about six years of work, a counterpart to his sculptures, which date back to the early ’90s.
“The sculptures are old,” he admitted, “and I pulled them out because no one has seen them altogether since that first show. I pulled everything out of my room, and my room is still crowded.”
The sculptures hail from Lee’s stint working in a machine shop, which offered him access to industrial machinery, scrap metal and creative inspiration.
“I love working with different materials, testing them out,” he said, mentioning a piece made from smoothed-down graphite. Called “The Cursed Icon,” the sculpture imparts a tangible secret to those who touch it (in other words, don’t touch it).
“The Other Side of the Paper” resembles a reversed piece of notebook paper, made of mirror, with a sizable pencil sitting atop. “I’m dyslexic, so I started drawing on the other side of the paper in school,” Lee said.
The “Angry Plants” series is a fan favorite, and many of its pieces are new additions or were enhanced for the show. Incorporating metal shavings, including steel and copper, and found objects, Lee has created a veritable garden of metallic plants.
“When I worked at the machine shop, I collected shavings from turnings to take them to the recycling center, and that’s what these are,” he said.
But Lee didn’t see recyclables. “I saw plants,” he said.
The “plants” come “planted” in various found objects, like ball valves, electricity sockets, door locks and more, with fine shavings serving as soil.
“Why are they angry?” he asked. “Because they’re sharp, and if you try to pet them, they will cut you. Plus, you don’t have to water them.”
“Been Awhile: Past and Present Works by C.B. Lee” runs during Friday’s Downtown Boone Art Crawl, starting at 7 p.m. The Nth˚ Gallery and Studios is located at 683 W. King St. in downtown Boone.