Monday, April 01, 2013

Robert J. Lee: "I never stop painting mentally"

For some time now I've been quite taken by the work of a mid-20th century illustrator named Robert J. Lee. I first encountered it in a book I found several years ago at a thrift shop.


Lee's distinctive style, so richly colourful and swirling with painterly energy, seems perfect for fantastical stories of magic and mythology.


Until recently I knew very little about Robert J. Lee (I had 'set him aside' so to speak, while focusing on learning about other illustrators) then a search online turned up a biography, a photo, and some interesting details.


Even better, an old issue of American Artist magazine from 1968 features an article on Lee wherein he speaks extensively on a variety of subjects. It turns out Lee was a very interesting guy with a lot on his mind!


This week I'll be sharing images by the artist - both from my collection of old books and magazines and some found online - and accompany them with excerpts from the article in American Artist.


Back in 1968, the editors at the magazine described Lee as "spirited," and "effervescent" and said their questions had been answered with "forceful statements." Ultimately the editors felt it would be best to simply compile his thoughts and conversations into a stand-alone digest and run it over several pages.


And so I shall do the same...

"I have always been rather suspicious of articulate painters, but maybe the reason lies in the fact that an artist's life is, by necessity, one of being alone most of the time and communication with words is difficult. Perhaps one's work should be enough without talking about it, but I seldom turn down lecture requests even though it's terribly hard work. I find the questions from the audience, whether it be an adult art organization or a group of students, to be about the same in California as in New York. How did I 'get started'; what schools did I attend; how does one develop a style. Occasionally I get an original question. A lady, on viewing one of my three foot high oil paintings for Heroes of the Bible asked "Is the book really going to be that large?"


"They also ask what I like and dislike, as if an artist has some magic words of wisdom, or lives in a world apart. I never stop painting mentally so that my surroundings or the people in it seem a bit cloudy in retrospect. Perhaps the only reality is in the working. No, I have no hobbies, really. I love nature inordinately, I feed birds, I garden a bit. Gold is for some other breed or species."


"In the area I live in I have seen a harmless ten pound bobcat, dead, tied proudly to some idiot's fender. I once saw two black bear cubs, tied in bloody bundles on top of a station wagon. I loathe these "sportsmen."


* Continued tomorrow


  1. Randy Mohr5:54 PM

    Wow! I remember these from my childhood, mostly because of the color! Talk about eye candy! Terrific!

  2. It is so good to read about an illustrator that I'm familiar with since childhood. I love these illustrations.

  3. thanks for sharing... Lee is great! and look the dragon is adorable, love these :)

  4. Looks familiar...wonder if I had a book he illustrated at some point in my youth.

  5. Is there more?? I have a very large painting by Lee and I am eager to learn all I can about him.