Sunday, June 24, 2012

Richard Lee, Magical Painter of West Tisbury

For 24 years a visit to Martha's Vineyard was not complete without both a visit to the West Tisbury home, and a pilgrimage to the Vineyard Haven gallery of my friend, reverse glass painter Richard Lee. In a magical house tucked into Indian territory, filled with totems and feathers, Buddha's and bracelets, stuffed wolves and wall to wall art, Richard and his family resided.  He was a brilliant, thoughtful and irreverent man who was generous in spirit, adored his family, tended his gardens, and obsessivly worked on his art.

A visiting reporter, Heather Curtis wrote in the Martha's Vineyard Times:

"The studio's door opens wide to reveal his reverse paintings on glass displayed in antique frames on the room's pastel walls.  They are vividly colored neon fantasies conveying a satiric humor. Vibrant green frogs wearing neon-colored boots in 'Java Jive' dance around merrily while balancing oversized cups of coffee above their heads. In 'Fashion Runway' models with human bodies and animal heads strut around in front a crowd of neon blue spectators. Richard Lee paints the details first, then adds background.Richard said that "the mixture of animal and human forms come from his observing the animal characteristics that many people have." 
Ms. Curtis added, "He says the images he paints are zoomorphic, portraying "'the realizations of the inner connectedness of all of life.'" As for the meanings of the paintings, he says that's up to the viewer to figure out. '"People don't know how they're supposed to react, as if they're supposed to,'" Mr. Lee says, taking a long sip from his iced coffee.
"An Islander since the 1970s, he discovered the art form by chance, he explains. It was a friend's birthday, and he didn't have any paper to make a card. So he made do with what he had, painting a card on a piece of glass. The accident became an instant addiction."
Richard discovered antique mirrors with hand carved frames at tag sales and scrapped off the silver backing. He then did a sketch on translucent paper and proceeded to the final painting on the back of the glass. His works were highlighted with gold and silver leaf and once, for an entire year, he painted exclusively in 23 shades of blue. One of the paintings from this period, "Miss Owl Pulls the Cord", is in my personal collection. Richard also undertook massive tasks of painting entire case pieces along with gilding their wood, and an important case piece was recently accepted into the permanent collection of  the Baltimore Museum of Art. The formal title is Sinking and Burning, but the piece is widely referred to as The 13th Cabinet.
He was a very magical man.....a man whose spirit will remain in the hearts of all who were privileged to know him. He made us open our eyes and view the world in an entirely different way. The lesson and the man will not be lost, but they will be dearly missed.


scott davidson said...

"I saw this picture in the school library where someone's face was all made up of fruits and vegetables," my son said. "Would be cool to have one of those in my room."
He and I searched for art about "vegetables" in and immediately found this one,, by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, which fits the bill to the nearest pear.

Beverly Kaye said...

Arcimboldo is a favorite painter of mine and I have been trying to get a CT painter who uses the same style to consider selling his paintings. I'll keep you posted! Your son has very good taste1

Beverly Kaye said...

My comments came from personal experiences with Richard Lee, whom I knew for many years. i also gleaned information from his wife, Claudia and from local Vineyard newspapers. At the moment there is a spectacular retrospective show of Richard's work at the Featherstone Gallery on the island, put together by Richard's wife and his son Hudson.

Jaker Harwell said...

Wonderful blog & good post outsider art.Its really helpful for me, awaiting for more new post. Keep Blogging!

Beverly Kaye said...

Jaker Harwell, thank you so much!
I am more active on Instagram
as Beverly Kaye and post a lot of art there.
Come join me!

Anonymous said...

I had inherited two pieces of his art today. Both are mysterious and interesting!