The art world has lost an icon. Internationally acclaimed African American artist Annie Lee passed away on November 24 in Henderson, Nevada. Known for her expressive, mostly humorous paintings of faceless figures, she captured slices of Black life and lifestyle from church to the lounge; from the oval office to the cottonfields; from childhood memories to old love.
A memorial service for the beloved artist will take place in Matteson, IL on Sunday December 20.
Her most iconic painting, “Blue Monday” struck a chord with women all over America and continues to be her best-selling print some 30 years since it was first printed.
Following is a tribute to the artist from the Philadelphia Tribune:
“Painter and decorative artist Annie Frances Lee, known for her unique ability to celebrate African-American culture passed away on Monday, Nov. 24, 2014 in Henderson, Nev. She was 79 years old.
Lee was well known for her realistic and humorous portrayals of contemporary and historical African-American family life. Lee established herself internationally not only as an artist, but a respected and business savvy entrepreneur. Her noted ability to convey feelings through the faceless subjects of her paintings has won her a place in history as one of the icons of African-American art. “My paintings are of everyday life. I try to paint things that people can identify with,” Lee told Contemporary Black Biography (CBB).
Born in Gadsden, Ala. in 1935 and raised in Chicago, Lee began painting at age 10 in elementary school, where she won her first art contest and received a free semester of study at the Art Institute of Chicago. She continued honing her artistic skills resulting in a four-year scholarship to Northwestern University. However, she chose marriage and raising a family over attending school.
Lee did not resume painting until she was 40 years old. By then, she had lost two husbands to cancer and raised a daughter from her first marriage and a son from her second. While working as the chief clerk at Northwestern Railroad, Annie studied art at night, eventually earning a masters degree in Interdisciplinary Art from Loyola University. Although she never intended to teach, after eight years of night classes, Lee told CBB, “Getting my masters degree was the best thing I ever did for myself. It reopened my mind.”
Painting at night was Lee’s haven and release from the pressures of everyday life. Her railroad job inspired one of Lee’s most popular paintings, “Blue Monday,” which depicts a woman struggling to pull herself out of bed on a Monday morning. Living in such close proximity to her art caused new challenges for Lee. She developed tendinitis and spinal problems from painting so much. Even worse, the fumes from the acrylic paints she used made her sick. Despite these problems, she continued to paint, having her first gallery show in 1985. The show was so successful that Lee allowed prints to be made of four of the paintings, so that she could meet the demand for her work.
In 1986, she lost her son to a tragic car accident. She took off time to grieve and while doing so, decided it was time to step out on faith with her talent. She never returned to the railroad.
A hallmark of Lee’s work is that the figures she paints are faceless. “You don’t need to see a face to understand emotion,” Lee explained to CBB. “I try to make the movement of the body express the emotion. And people can use their imaginations.”
Having been showcased in galleries around the world, Lee became an internationally recognized painter and an original piece of her work sells for anywhere between $4,000 and $20,000. Her art has been used as decorations for television and movie sets such as “A Different World”, “227,” “Coming to America,” “Boomerang” and “Barber Shop.”
Her business acumen, however, led her to develop a line of figurines, high fashion dolls, decorative housewares and kitchen tiles and home décor items recreated from her paintings that offer the opportunity for everyone, on any budget, to own a piece of Annie Lee.”
New Releases from Edwin Lester
“By Any Means Neccesary”
The latest release in Edwin Lester’s “Uncolored” series is a limited edition giclee on canvas that tells of a chapter in our history when a simple act could be considered seditious and, hence, punishable. It tells the story of a slave girl and the daughter of the slave holder who have formed a bond through their desire to teach and be taught literacy. They share a furtive moment immersed in the pages of a book, but face the very real danger of being found out when the plantation owner comes in search of her daughter.
“All About that Brass”