Dick (Richard) Lee
(British 1923- 2001)
Richard ‘Dick’Lee was an artist born in Rhodesia in 1923. After serving in the Navy during the Second World War, Lee began his art studies at the Camberwell School of Art, after two years he won an Abbey Major Scholarship to continue his studies in Rome.. He returned to Camberwell afterwards and was an influential teacher till his retirement in 1982. Lee has exhibited widely throughout his career including at the Duke Street Gallery and the New Grafton Gallery.
Dick Lee was one of the most sensitive and uncompromising objective painters of his generation. His brush could discover a kind of touching grace in subjects that others might overlook and his paintings were both tough and tender. Light-hearted self-deprecation, an effervescent sense of fun and an unwavering moral approach to all questions of importance made him a great and much-loved teacher.
In a series of intriguing ‘notices’ he alerted Camberwell students to important forthcoming exhibitions. These constructions were made from scrap timber, broken china, electrical flex, discarded brushes, dismembered toys and other bits of junk which Lee accumulated for the purpose. The instantly recognisable caricatures of fellow artists and their work are a singularly important record of some of the key participants in post-war British painting. Notices for shows by Frank Auerbach, Robert Medley, Patrick George, Tony Eyton, Frank Bowling and others are present in this exhibition and demonstrate Lee’s irreverent delight in the quirky individuality of his colleagues and their professional obsessions.
None of this gentle satire ever found its way into the paintings in which he was engaged in a battle to put down the essence of the subject without self-conscious markmaking or overheated colour. There was a moment of purity at which the picture should be finished and beyond which it would be ‘overcooked’. Contour, proportion, direction, colour and tone were tackled simultaneously. The brushwork was kept open throughout the painting process and the work finished when the subject was firmly present in all its richness. In Lee’s paintings there is therefore an unusually attractive visual tension between the thing represented and the means of depiction. This is what links the paintings to the assemblages where precisely the same mechanism is in operation. It is a question of unlikely objects, fragments or marks achieving in combination a kind of vivid likeness.
Lee was at his most radical in watercolour, oil pastel and gouache. These pictures have, as in many of Turner’s and all of Cézanne’s works on paper, the quality of private meditation. The watercolours possess a supreme economy of means; thin fluid washes floated across the paper until the subject emerges with gentle force. Gouache was for Lee a convenient alternative to oil and he was able to combine its opacity and transparency with the dash and verve that gives his larger paintings such intense life. Oil pastel, an intractable medium, accorded well with the painter’s desire to grasp the essentials of the subject without overworking. There is nothing obvious or banal in these paintings. They disclose nature with faithfulness and love. It is from work like this that the argument for objective painting can still be made.
John Maddison 2007
SELECTED ONE-MAN EXHIBITIONS
82/85/87/92 New Grafton Gallery, London
1978 Camden Arts Centre, London, Notices
1983 Gillian Jason Gallery, London, Dick Lee’s Practical Dada
1988/92/95 Cadogan Contemporary, London
School House Gallery, Wighton
2000 Chappel Galleries, Essex
2001 Browse and Darby, London, February
2002 Imperial War Museum, London
2007 Chappel Galleries, Essex