NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – She eats her fried catfish with mustard, used to work for the railroad and for decades has painted art depicting everyday African-American life.
And now the internationally acclaimed artist Annie Lee lives in North Texas.
At her art-filled house, Lee talked with CBSDFW.COM about her life, personal and professional, as she prepared for the Southwest Black Fine Art Show being held at the African American Museum in Fair Park, April 8-10.
Born in Gasden, Alabama and raised in Chicago, Lee says for her, there has always been art.
“All of my life I painted. And my brother, he was a year and a half older than me, and he painted,” she said. “I had a great growing up time even though we were extremely poor. I didn’t know we were [poor].”
While she always painted, for 10 years Lee earned a living by working at Northwestern Railroad.
There was a period when disease and tragedy claimed the lives of her husband and son. As she healed, Lee said it was then that she made a vow never to work ‘for’ anyone else again.
The widow and mother of two became a full-time artist and, surprising no one but herself, has achieved resounding success.
Lee’s work reflects everyday African-American life – past, present and future. When asked why her art only features African-Americans, “I figure you got enough white people painting white, so I paint black,” she said matter-of-factly. “I paint what I know about. And I know… I really know about being black. And I really know what women go through, so that’s what I mostly paint.”
Lee’s work has appeared in movies like “Barbershop,” “Coming to America” and “Boomerang” and in a hit television series produced by Bill Cosby.
“The gallery called me. ‘[They said] Annie, guess what? Bill Cosby came in the gallery’ — that was the gallery in Philadelphia – ‘and he actually picked out one of your pieces for the show ‘A Different World.’’”
Any individual depiction in Lee’s art could be just about anyone, since her paintings are of people with no facial features.
“I’m not showing you whether the character’s happy or sad, but by the movement of the body I’m trying to let you know what’s going on in the painting,” Lee explained
Lee referred to her painting ‘Blue Monday.’ It shows a woman sitting on the side of her bed, presumably first thing in the morning, trying to wake up. “You never saw the face, right? She’s leaning down.
“[The painting] ‘Holy Ghost’ – she’s shouting, but you know she’s shouting.”
Lee pays a price to be an artist. “I’m allergic to the paint, very much,” she explained. “I’ve had to go to the emergency room three times.” The problem is a continuous one since the 76-year-old’s ‘studio’ is in her bedroom.
Despite it all, Lee says she’ll never stop painting and often enjoys the North Texas weather. “When I’m painting outside in the air it’s [the allergy] no problem.”
Fans and art collectors the world over know Annie Lee, including someone she had an unknown connection with. “Since I’ve been here in Texas I’ve been selling my art at a gallery in McKinney. Laura Moore’s Gallery,” said Lee. “She went to the Art Institute of Chicago also and she ended up owning a gallery in McKinney.”
From her first one-woman show at an art gallery in 1985 to owning her own galleries in Chicago and Las Vegas, Annie Lee is on a roll.
It’s one she says is heaven-sent. “If it weren’t for God, wouldn’t any of this have happened. Period. Period.”