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Celebrating Illustration, Design, Cartoon and Comic Art of the Mid-20th Century

Robert J. Lee: "The life of a real working artist is tough work, mentally and physically."

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

In 1968 the editors of American Artist magazine presented the work of illustrator Robert J. Lee. Accompanying his art they compiled interviews, correspondences and "several pages of informal notes" into a single 'digest' of Lee's thoughts on a broad range of topics related to his life as an artist.

Lee29

Here is the 3rd excerpt:

"I have little patience with exhibitions of "black on black" or a green circle on a white ground and all the psuedo-intellectual gibberish that usually accompanies such shows. It's all been done a thousand times and the individuality of the painter is lost completely."

Lee28.detail01

"I fully understand the protests, the rebellion, the need for change; the sloshing of paint with rude brushes, the solid red canvas. This was inevitable. The things I object to are the "taste makers" throwing everything else out, and the misguided young artist who has been duped into thinking the art field is all a crazy, a wild, mishmash of self indulgence, completely without discipline. Make no mistake, the life of a real working artist is tough work, mentally and physically."

Lee28

"The most troublesome problem I have is time. Working six or seven days a week seems less than the time I need to illustrate, experiment, paint and teach. I'm not sure about the line, "an artist should reflect his times." I estimate I paint about seventy illustrations and paintings a year. Each of these involves a new situation, a fresh idea, and usually research of some kind (one does not paint a very realistic illustration for a nature book on North American mammals, from memory.)"

Lee26

"I work in just about any media depending upon the assignment or inspiration. If someone is paying $1,500 for an illustration I can afford to stretch a four-foot canvas and spend some time doing an oil."

Lee18

"For a textbook page paying $150 I work in wash or casein, and usually in small scale (one-and-one-half times larger than the printed illustration is my normal procedure.)"

Lee29.detail01

"Preliminary sketches bore me, especially if the sketch is made or required to be so complete as to take the creative surge out of the final painting. I normally do a "comp" for clients buying an illustration from me, and I find that sometimes it is much better than the finished art because of the spontaneity factor which the rough had and the painting lacked."

Lee21

"I draw my pictures in charcoal rather roughly, then go over these lines in brush and ink, because my next step is a series of neutral washes, and without the ink lines my drawing would be lost. Painting on a flat white surface would be most distracting to me."

Lee27

"I once did a mural on a yellow wall, and within less than an hour my normal good color sense had left me. Reds looked brown and greens went dead, and yet, upon arrival each morning to begin work, the mural looked fine - all the colors made sense, but as soon as the work of mixing colors and resuming the job had gone on for a time, the same reaction took place."

Lee25.detail01

"I find the best tone for me on canvas is gray-green."

Lee25

"I work standing at a beat-up easel. My palette is about three feet square and hasn't been cleaned in ten years, so it looks like a relief map of the Andes Mountains! My palette is rather limited, probably harking back to my student days of limited means for buying paint. However, I see no reason for six blues or eight reds on the same palette!"


* Continued tomorrow

10 comments

  1. He's as articulate while talking as he is while drawing and painting.
    Enlightening entry; thanks Leif.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I agree with his observations. It's funny how some things never change even the amounts tthat clients pay hasn't changed, unfortunately.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Leif, Interesting read! You've got some great examples of his artwork that I haven't seen in a long time. I tried to e-mail you a small booklet I put together transcribed from tapes he made of his life. It also has some photos from his early life. You might want to post a few observations of his though they are not about his illustrations in particular.
    Thanks so much for keeping illustration alive. My mom will be thrilled that you are doing this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Robin. I take it you are related to Robert J Lee? I would like to know more about him. I own one of his paintings and don't know much about the artist or the painting's value. Any suggestions I can follow to learn more?
      Thank you…

      Delete
    2. Anonymous3:56 PM

      Cousin Marilyn, here - In the Pacific Northwest, along with your other cousin (your Uncle Gene's daughters), Tracy. She has framed Follies of War and a uni-cycle clown, along with some other paintings dad had. I have tow paintings from Uncle Bob's darker period, early 50's. How can we get in touch with you and/or cousin Steff? Marilyn Lee Stowe

      Delete
  4. Glad to see that Robin saw this...I was alerted by my graphic designer son-in-law Andrew Lin.....I can so hear Bob's voice when reading the comments. Made my first art trade with Bob when I was about 8 (over 60 years ago)...a few small creatures for a small painting of a clown...painting is still in my studio. He stayed my artistic mentor.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous12:54 AM

      Wendy - lost contact with you a few years ago. Marilyn Lee
      Stowe. I am at sfcitygirl63@yahoo.com.
      We were chatting about my Uncle Bob.

      Delete
  5. We have a good amount of great artwork by Robert J. Lee in The Retro Kid. Here's the link to check them out:

    Robert J. Lee in The Retro Kid

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hello, my name is Victoria,
    I am writing to the artist to inquire about a painting I cannot find and was wondering how much it is. It is a painting of a clown on a uni-cycle, he wears a green jacket and plaid pants with a blue-green hat. There are many details of tiny circus scenes all around. There is a carrousel on the upper left hand corner, clown on right, man with child, giraffe and monkey.
    Thanks for your time,
    Victoria

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hello, my name is Victoria,
    I am writing to the artist to inquire about a painting I cannot find and was wondering how much it is. It is a painting of a clown on a uni-cycle, he wears a green jacket and plaid pants with a blue-green hat. There are many details of tiny circus scenes all around. There is a carrousel on the upper left hand corner, clown on right, man with child, giraffe and monkey.
    Thanks for your time,
    Victoria

    ReplyDelete

 

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