Today we’d like to introduce you to Lawrence Lee.
Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
I wanted to be a writer. After all, words are the only weapon I’ve ever even come close to mastering. But I ended up studying art in college, largely because I was allowed to work at my own pace. Sadly, the fact that I’m moderately red-green colorblind hampered my development as a painter. I did receive a BFA and an MA in Art Ed, however, and made painting my primary medium of expression. For seven years, I taught and developed my portfolio and established relationships with good galleries, and I became a full-time artist in 1979. I sold a lot of paintings and made a lot of money and retired at age 53, moving to a Caribbean island with my wife. She became ill, and we returned to Tucson in about 2006. Eight years later, I started painting again and have discovered that by combining fearlessness with decades of experience I can excel as a painter in genres I once thought to be beyond me.
Now, late in life, I have discovered the wonders of collaboration. In 2015 I was asked by Ballet Tucson to collaborate on the creation of a new contemporary ballet to be based on the traditions of Dia de Los Muertos. I worked on the project for eleven months, producing over 300 digital renderings to create a visual context for the dance through set and costume design and construction–to the creation of large fly-in panels and both still and video projections used as virtual sets–as well as promotional materials. “Spirit Garden” debuted in October of 2016 and is being reprised this year.
I enjoyed the process so much that it was like a gateway drug that left me wanting more. Since then, I have done scenic design and construction of a sculptural, 24′ x 8′, white-on-white fly-in for Ballet Tucson’s 2018 tribute to Leonard Bernstein and character illustrations for The Rogue Theater.
Please tell us about your art.
I make paintings, mostly.
It has taken 50 years for me to finally understand one basic truth about all art: people get out of art what they bring to it. No matter what an artist is trying to communicate through work, it will always be perceived through the life-lens of the observer. Everything they have ever seen or done has created a filter through which they now experience life–and art. So each person experiences a work of art differently, and it is as though some art can create a door where no door had been. If the art resonates through the life-lens of the viewer, that door will open, leading not out to some alien place, but inward: to self. And when a person is fortunate enough to experience a resonant piece of art and to open that amazing door, there is no end to what they can learn about themselves.
These things that I create seem to resonate especially well through the life-lenses of some people. My works are not common fodder for a broad range of the general public but appeal to a subset of connoisseurs which—though tiny—has been large enough that I have been able to have a very successful career now spanning almost 50 years.
From the early days, I have painted imaginary people, often symbolically related to Native American mysticism. Some have suggested, however, that all these imaginary faces are actually self-portraits, and I suppose there could be some truth to that. Some of the faces are my personal interpretations of images made by intrepid photographers of the late 1800’s, but most are wholly imaginary, and I do seem to dwell in some of them.
In recent years, though I do still paint these faces, I have also cast back to work I did in my college days and started to paint non-objectives and landscapes again. As with the imaginary portraits, most of the landscapes are also constructed entirely from my memory and imagination. This process astonishes me because some of the landscapes seem to be syntheses of places through which I’ve traveled or in which I have lived here in the desert southwest. And collaborations with Ballet Tucson and other creative groups have pushed me to explore yet other modes of expression and new imagery, unlike anything I’ve done before. I’m not yet the best artist that I can be, and I’m running out of time.
We often hear from artists that being an artist can be lonely. Any advice for those looking to connect with other artists?
Painting is typically not a team sport. The lives of painters who draw most of their inspiration from internal sources can be very isolated, and the pursuit of such a career is not advisable for those not comfortable in their own minds for long periods. A few years ago, I stopped at an art supply store to pick up some tool or other and saw a somewhat scruffy man sitting on a nearby bench, surrounded by boxes and plastic bags and what appeared to be a bedroll. I figured that he was either a homeless man taking shelter from the brutal afternoon sun—or an artist hoping to score a long-handled brush or two from some departing shopper. Or both. You never know.
How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
My work can be seen on the walls of homes all over the southwest and around the world, in the permanent collections of noted corporations such as IBM, and in both public and private museums. I have been an Artist Member of Tucson’s infamous Mountain Oyster Club since 1988 and have new work in their annual show every year. I have also been represented by Settlers West Gallery in Tucson for several years, but my main outlet at the moment is Casa de Tesoro in Tubac, AZ. At present, my studio is not open to the public, but my website is image-rich and always up to date with recent work.
The best way for someone to support my work would be to… hmmm… let me think. Oh, yes! People should seek it out and see if one or more paintings resonates through their life-lens and if it does… buy it.
- Website: https://lawrenceleeart.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @lawrenceleeart
- Twitter: @lawrenceleeart
(Photo of me) by Molly Condit