March 26- May 8, 2021
March 26- May 8, 2021
Betty Cunigham Gallery is pleased to present this exhibition of new work by John Lees, including 25 paintings and 2 works on paper. Typically, Lees spends years working and reworking his paintings and drawings; he often leaves a written diary on the front or back of the work as a physical reminder of the time spent. In his recent work, Lees incorporates brighter, more upbeat colors, concentrating less on memories and instead focusing on “his life now.”
Lees chooses a brighter, less subdued, palette in Hills of Home, as seen in his backyard’s blue fence and yellow bridges. These hues reflect the artist’s desire to focus on ‘the now’ in his new works, opposed to concentrating on past memories. Recently, Lees has been inspired by abstractionists, such as Sonia Delaunay, for their extraordinary use of color and the way their heightened colors defy any sense of nostalgic narrative. Lees began Hills of Homes in 1997 and its lively color evolved slowly over time, gradually heightening to its current tempo. It was completed in tandem with Sandy and Winter Painting (Two Figures), both of which share this intensified palette.
While editing and revising is a part of all artistic processes, John Lees’ penchant for adding and subtracting is unparalleled. Lees’ paintings evolve over several years, sometimes even decades, before he achieves the visual effect and exact surface that he desires. Sometimes, in order to transform the work, he must use sandpaper to breakdown the paint before he can begin to build the surface back up. Even exhibitions do not necessarily end the editing process, as it is very common for Lees to bring works back into the studio after an exhibition to continue tweaking them or even totally overhauling their subject matter. For instance, it is not uncommon for a stream in one exhibition to morph into a Cloisters angel by the next exhibition.
I simply put everything that I have into the paintings - what I think, what I feel, and what I see. Every thought, about everything, they all go into these paintings.
While unusual, the strong horizontal format of this drawing is not new for Lees; it is a format that parallels his own stream of consciousness. Along the full length of the top of the drawing are dates spanning from 2000 to 2021, documenting each time Lees entered the work, often noting additions made to the composition on that particular day. As the title suggests, Lees positioned himself in one place to compose the 95 inch long work on paper, turning his head to observe the simple subject of his backyard. He pieced together sheets of paper as if drawing a personal diary.
John Lees was born in 1943 in Denville, NJ. He received his BFA and MFA from the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles, CA. He has been exhibiting in New York since 1977 and has been an instructor at the New York Studio School since 1988. Lees is the recipient of numerous awards and grants, including the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Hassam, Speicher, Betts, and Symons Purchase Fund Award; the Francis J. Greenburger Award; the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Grant; and the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship Grant. His work can be found in a host of public institutions, most notably the Detroit Institute of Art, Detroit, MI; the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, MA; The Kemper Collection, Kansas City, MO; the Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA; the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; and The New Museum, New York, NY. He lives and works in upstate New York.