Roland Lee . . . continued from page 1
It was while teaching, however, that Lee embraced his childhood love of art and began a serious study of transparent watercolor. After a few workshops from Osral Allred, Carl Purcell, Glen Dale Anderson and Tom Leek, Lee's mind was settled on watercolor as his medium. The peaceful surroundings of his home were a natural inspiration to his work. As he says, "five minutes in any direction gets you away." Zion Canyon was a particular "haven" for him in early years and he spent many hours there. His strong desire to be "in the landscape . . . as a part of the landscape, rather than painting on a street corner" took him to sketching on location. If you have heard him speak or seen one of his gallery shows, his sketchbooks are an incredible testament to his commitment to journaling what he experiences in nature. He gladly shares these sketchbooks with others and encourages the use of hard-backed sketching journals of a size that are easy to carry. He says that he takes his journal everywhere he goes so he will not miss out on any opportunity that arises. "What nature does in and of itself is wonderful," he says. As is apparent from his work, Lee spends hours studying rock formations and the way light and shadows play against each other.|1| "The light is the key to the drama in the landscape," he says. "If you understand that, you will be successful".
Lee's paintings demonstrate that he has understood this key, and he has been recognized in a variety of venues for his success. Lee's attention to lighting makes his pieces stand out from other "red rock"paintings. He is especially careful to preserve the whites on his paper, using technique, rather than masking, to accomplish this goal. His shadows are carefully shaped to bring the eye to the focal point of the painting. His colors are muted shades that evoke a sense of peace to the viewer. Most notable are Lee’s skies, which are seldom calm and always full of color and movement.|0|
Lee has received numerous awards and endless recognition over the years. He took second place at the Sears Invitational Art show this past February in St. George, was in the "Arts for the Parks Top 200" in Jackson, Wyoming in September of 2006, and the "Arts for the Parks Top 100 mini show" in Jackson, Wyoming the same year. Lee's work has been widely talked about and published in newspapers and magazines over the last 20 years, most recently in the featured article of "The Drawing Board"" Magazine in May of 2006, and "SkyWest" Magazine and "The Artist's Magazine" in 2005. His work can be found in over 850 public and private collections throughout the United States and in several foreign countries. He is listed in "Artists of Utah" by Verne Swanson and Robert Olpin, and in McKittrick's "Guide to Fine Art."
Lee has been inspired by other artists. He particularly notes his college professor, William Whittaker, who taught him about commercial design but whose figurative painting skills were especially admirable and continue today. He also mentions John Singer Sargeant and his wide artistic abilities with oil, watercolor, crayon, or block and his incredible ability to define light, edges, and form. He mentions that of the early Utah artists, Maynard Dixon has inspired him the most; particularly since BYU had a large group of his paintings on display during Lee's college years. Dixon's early California Impressionism technique and bold shapes taught Lee how to see color.
Lee describes himself in one sentence as a "peaceful person who is passionate about the landscape." And his landscapes and rural scenery portray the peace he speaks of. He also points out that any people or animals in his landscapes are purposefully at peace with the surrounding landscape. He describes art as a dance between artist and spectator. Both are required for art's purpose to be fulfilledin his case, the sense of peace with the landscape. When asked what makes Roland Lee different from other artists, he says it may be his enthusiasm. "I have never had an artist block in my entire life. My head is filled. In fact," he says with a grin, "I am surly without painting."
What does Lee see himself doing in five years? "The same as now, with more travel, but I don't plan on ever quitting." His wife is at his side on his trips to California, Europe, New England, the South Pacific, and the Midwest. He says she doesn't seem to tire of reading a book while he sketches or blocks out a quick watercolor study of a scene. When he is not traveling or on location, Lee paints out of his studio/gallery overlooking St. George. He has a remarkable view with good north light. He shares his gallery on the third floor of an office building with several lawyers who seem to enjoy his work hanging in the hallways. His studio is tight, but contains everything he needs at arm's reach. Again, his view of the "red rock" is inspiring and a stone's throw away. He points to an area of rock nearby and says, "When it rains, I have my own private waterfall right there."
Lee puts as much enthusiasm into his teaching as he does his painting. He left his University position years ago, but he is still in demand as an instructor. Catherine Hostetter, organizer and attendee at a recent three-day workshop for the Utah Watercolor Society in Salt Lake, describes Lee as "the most prepared instructor I've ever seen." His teaching makes use of Powerpoint slides, demonstrations, and plenty of time for hands-on work. Hostetter says that his teaching attitude is "you can watch and you can listen, but if you don't experience it, you won't address issues that arise with new techniques." She also states that he "doesn't hold back" on steps to creating certain trademark effects, is very personable and "his whole persona is kindness." She says that Lee prefers smaller groups, but due to the demand, there were twenty-three in this workshop, but it appeared to pose no problems for him. Lee's web site is a learning place for watercolor artists and sketchers alike. It includes multiple step-by-step demos of his technique. In one, he shows you how to use a sketchbook to develop, with a little artistic license, a delightful watercolor out of what was a fairly mundane scene. In another demo, he provides insights on how he creates his stunning Lake Powell paintings, including techniques for the water and rock walls.
Lee's enthusiasm as painter and teacher is now on display at the St. George Art Museum. Roland Lee Canyon Country Paintings |2| is currently running through July 7 at the St. George Art Museum on 47 East 200 North in St. George. The hours are Monday through Saturday from 10-5. Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for children. The gallery is a "learning place" gallery, featuring art experiences for children. Lee's show is a wonderful experience for children and adults who want to get inside the head of the artist. Lee has provided three sets of step-by-step progress images alongside the final watercolors to explain how the watercolor evolved. Also included in the show is a collection of pages from his sketchbooks, as well as a display of his artist pouch and the items he typically carries with him.|3|
If you would like to know more about Roland Lee, visit his web site www.rolandlee.com and his daily blog where he journals art events in his life. His work may also be seen at the Mission Gallery in St. George and the Datura Gallery in Ivins. Also, the Watercolor Gallery in Laguna Beach carries his work. ||
Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
Connecting, not dreaming: Chad Tolley @ Saltgrass
by Geoff Wichert
Chad Tolley & Members Show continues at Saltgrass Printmakers through the end of May.
A postcard from SaltGrass Printmakers announcing a members' show always gets posted by my door: a "must-see" event that by itself justifies a trip to Sugarhouse and the downtown environs. The collective of artists that make up the SaltGrass community consistently provides a broad range of legitimate, contemporary visions unified by reverence for craft and respect for visual truth. Even a sometime adjunct at a college art department knows that few make the transition from art student to artist, and printmakers face an extra-daunting set of obstacles. From fashioning a matrix and preparing ink to locating a press and finding space enough to dry an edition, every part of printmaking imposes material necessities that would be choices in another medium. Few individuals can lay hold of the resources necessary for a print studio. Then there is the inexplicable prejudicefive centuries onthat questions the legitimacy of the last great medium to allow the artist allaround control of abstraction in a representational idiom.
U. of U. graduates Sandy Brunvand and Stefanie Dykes founded SaltGrass to avoid the former trap, by replacing a state-funded studio with one sustained by fellow orphan graduates and printers. They ended up addressing the second issue as well when they discovered an international underground movement that makes and consumes prints in the belief that today as much as ever, and perhaps more, they matter as art. So today, SaltGrass is the three-dimensional projection into Utah time and space of that movement, bringing us visionaries who have learned how to cross borders without airplanes or passports, and in spite of language barriers. These missionaries have a message that can travel as easily as an envelope in the mail, yet arrive expressing an individual consciousness as eloquent as Rembrandt's or Picasso's.
Chad Tolley, the latest pilgrim to Salt Lake's print scene, isn't really a stranger here. Although he spent a few years working in the Northwest after completing his M.F.A. at the University of Oregon, he earned his B.F.A. in what was then a small U. of U. print program. His return may be due to nostalgia, but may also owe something to following his muse. Recently he says he has begun to revisit themes from his early years.
The first task of printmaking is to bring the surface to life. Tolley does this with a bravura technique rooted in Vincent van Gogh's, whose mark-making was informed by Georges Seurat's pointillism. In "Corresponding Parts II," the entire sky joins in the acrobatics of the birds cavorting above the couple's heads. |0| Her bathing suit and his trousers carry the imprint of roses, while the ground beneath their feet and the mountains beyond the lake heave with the topographical equivalent of heavy breathing. When we're in love, sometimes the whole world seems to share it, but the grimaces on the lovers' faces argue that it's the other way 'round: it is nature, raw biology, that speaks through us whether we will or not.
Ambiguity, ambivalence, or irony turns up wherever Tolley looks. In "Fortress," a landscape triptych, rain falls into an endless body of water while in the rocky foreground a house is either menaced by, or contains, a wolf, seemingly wearing a suit, looking back over his shoulder.|1| Just what is the connection between threat and defense? And when the strong become fearful, who is really in danger? In "Hunter's Safety," |2| a red-clad figure holds a tree branch between himself and two such wolves, raising the question of who fools whom. Lines suggesting clouds also resemble a machined surface. Tolley thinks a lot about connections: between people, between people and nature, between the menaced and the menacing, but also between experiences and the ideas they provoke.
At times Tolley seems to dream surreal dreams. In "Batman and Robin Paint the Batmobile Red," |3| all three principals float in air. The unlikely botany of Two Mor Flor passes off the balance organs of the inner ear as plant structures. "Another Naked Dream" names the act, standing the naked protagonist like a circus rider on the bare back of a transparent-skinned horse full of fantasy anatomy, its head replaced by a tree. |4| Such willful subconscious eruptions distinguish dreams as the Surrealists sought themdirect connections to universal truthfrom the wishes we choose to dream. In "I Don't Want to Live in a Birdhouse," |5| the wish is to escape a nightmare. Onto, or through, an oddly flat house is projected a scene of cyclical warfare between man and nature: beneath a heavily cultivated tree, birds attack a cowering figure on a landscape both contained by and simultaneously outside the birdhouse. We've passed the point where humor and anxiety are mutually exclusive. We may not have reached the sublime, but we can sense its presence from here.
Tolley's sophisticated color schemes, which emerge as much from elaborately patterned textures as from choice of inks, contributes to the sense of sharpened, slightly heightened vision given by the drawings, with their poised figures and odd perspectives. Blues and grays shimmer with an almost metallic glow, while the red coat of the hunter makes him as strange to us as he must be to the wolves. While this may suggest that we are somehow seeing through to another layer, there's no indication that it's a spiritual level or a deeper reality. Instead, Tolley's narratives suggest the comic sensibility of Hogarth or Jane Austin. We're seeing what's there, but at the same time we are informed of the significance of events for those privileged to see through social blinders and grasp something real within them, not behind them.
Tolley is young, but he shows promise of even more satisfying encounters to come.||