"Lee’s constant and obvious use of contrast gives her art its loud ring of truth: the world operates on a dynamic and the coexistence of opposites.”

Michele D. Lee
Essay by William Zimmer

More often than one might think, people who have achieved success in the business world have the compulsion to make art. And, if and when they amass a strong body of artwork, it's noteworthy. Art, a solitary pursuit, and business, which necessarily involves working with others, require different kinds of attention and skill.

Michele Lee has created a remarkably sophisticated and full portfolio. A first impression is a disbelief that she has had little academic training. Her art career has not been a rote one. Rather she began a serious pursuit of painting to relieve the stress and tension that necessarily accompanies a high-powered job. Not surprisingly she has focused on her art as intensely and completely as she does on her business career.

Her art doesn't mirror the conditions of her day job, rather her small paintings are serene and speak of both the majesty and resilience of a solitary figure. The figures are most often females disporting themselves in rather thin, often columnar spaces that accentuate the figures' strength and self-possession.

Contrasted with the idea of the figures' supreme dominion over space, Lee renders their ambiance in a pale sometimes sketchy and indistinct way. This opposition of powerful subject and muted context gives Lee's art its singularity and the sensation that it has an aura. But Lee is not ethereal. She further undercuts the potentially remote and austere nature of her work by giving her paintings commonplace titles such as "Take a Seat" or 'Get Up." Lee's constant and obvious use of contrast gives her art its loud ring of truth: the world operates on a dynamic and the coexistence of opposites.

Before relocating to the East--she now lives in Edgewater, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan--Lee lived in California, and it's the stubborn yet resilient Northern California approach to art that has been a major influence on her. The New York art world has only lately returned to the figure after a reign of pure abstraction that lasted half a century. But the Bay Area never abandoned the figure. The figure is mined for all it's worth with an emphasis on creating new contexts for figures, while keeping their corporeal integrity.

Lee holds to that attitude. Her accomplishment is the constant assertion of the primacy and power of the figure in circumstances that are often nebulous and ambiguous; a series of playful titles, which also include "Hypnotic" and "Peek-a-boo" speak to the idea of an indistinct or shifting context. She will acknowledge abstraction, however; "I'm Back I", a wider painting than most, is essentially divided into quadrants, with dynamic, animated figure breaking its hard edges. "Get Up" features a matrix of large and small rectangles that would have delighted Hans Hoffman.

One unexpected and resonant quality of Lee's art is that her figures are neutral, classical if you will, regarding individualization. They seem to derive from classical Greece. Lee is an African-American and it is reasonable to suppose that she would want to give both a political and personal slant to her art by asserting that black women possess power over their circumstances, but Lee aims for universality. She chooses male subject now and then, but it is the female figure that most readily embodies the elegance and versatility that her vision requires.

Hers is a slight art at first glance, but the substance is there and gets revealed. There's a lot of art history, coupled with a proud personal history that ensures this.

William Zimmer
New York City
September, 2001