Hughie Lee-Smith


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Painter and printmaker. Born in Eustis, Florida, he lived in Atlanta as a small child but moved to Cleveland when he was ten. He studied at the Cleveland School (now Institute) of Art, performed with a dance company, designed sets for a theatrical group, and worked for a federal art project. After graduating in 1938, he taught in North Carolina before moving to Detroit in 1940. In 1944 he joined the war effort as an artist for the U.S. Navy, and in 1953 he earned a bachelor's degree from Wayne State University. Five years later, Lee-Smith moved to New York and became in 1963 only the second African American elected to membership in the National Academy of Design. He taught at the Art Students League for fifteen years, beginning in 1972, and later lived near Princeton, New Jersey. He died in Albuquerque. During his career, Lee-Smith moved from socially oriented themes related to the American Scene movement to more personal statements. These generally portray psychological and symbolic themes suggesting loneliness or alienation. In the painterly and haunting image of The Stranger (Smithsonian American Art Museum, c. 1957–58), a lone figure stands in a field that has been partially bulldozed or otherwise ravished. Behind, and separated from him, a cluster of simple houses and barns catches the slanting light that illuminates the face of the man, as he turns toward it. At once beautiful and menacing, the moment's enigmatic air suggests the melancholy undertow seen also in Edward Hopper's characteristic works. Later works incorporated surrealistic elements, as in Two Girls (New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, 1966). Here, isolated figures pose within puzzling environments, in which more tightly rendered but now incomprehensible elements contribute to an uncanny atmosphere. Lee-Smith was known also for portraits.

Subjects: Art.

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