Renee Lai | In The Water You Become

  • Opening: Saturday, January 7, 7-10pm
  • Artist Talk: Saturday, February 11 at 2pm
  • Exhibition Dates: January 7 – February 19, 2023
  • Gallery hours: Saturday & Sunday 12-6 or by appointment
In The Water You  Become
In The Water You  Become
The Water Transforms Me 3
The Water Transforms Me 1-4
The Water Transforms Me 2
Detail - The Water Transforms Me 2
In The Water You Become
Detail - Becoming
In The Water You Become
Swimming with Graphite
Swimming with Graphite (Drawing & Video)
In The Water You  Become
My Asian and My American

In the water you become anonymous, suspended in an unfeeling substance. In the water, you are at its mercy, just the same as everyone else. In the water, it is black, too deep and dark to see. It is hard to stay calm as you propel yourself over unknown depths and dangers, your face submerged and your breath held.

Your held breath both calms and scares you. The water touches you and holds you. The water touches you and weighs on you, your body dissolving. Seen from above or below it is hard to tell who you are, face, hair, and skin obscured by the mass of individual droplets. The water reflects the light, rendering you iridescent, golden, simultaneously too dark and too bright to see. You disappear, like some aquatic creature, into the water.

In The Water You Become exhibits traces left behind by my body— silhouettes, records of movements made while swimming, a doubling of myself in a painting. These drawings and paintings render my body legible: the exact contours of my frame have been traced onto the material. However, I am strangely anonymous, my face, skin color, and other identifying characteristics obscured. In the video work, my physical body is more fully present as I swim back and forth, dragging and sinking paintings of my own body.

The large scale of the work imbues my body’s outlines with a mystical power. The reductive shapes of my body form an imposing collection, body after body confronting the viewer. Suspended in watery worlds, the drawings of my body evoke a deity, floating between life and death. Water, in the form of natural lakes, pools, and even imagination, serves as a uniting element throughout all the works. It connects ideas of reflection and suspension, life and death, that tie us all together.


Renee Lai (Austin, TX) is an Asian American artist working in painting and drawing. In the latest group of works, Lai’s work focuses on the line between representation and anonymity. Lai graduated with her MFA in Studio Art: Painting and Drawing from the University of Texas at Austin in 2019. She holds an undergraduate degree in English and Studio Art with Honors from Dartmouth College, and she also studied painting at the New York Studio School. She has been an artist in residence at Vermont Studio Center, the Line hotel (Texas), and Monson Arts Center (Maine).