Dick Lee is widely admired as an exceptional painter, one of the very best of his generation. His discipline of direct and faithful observation of nature can be traced straight back to Constable and sits firmly within the great British landscape tradition.
Born in Rhodesia he went to Camberwell in 1947, joining the generation of young painters who, like him, had served in the war. Through the guidance of Coldstream and their Euston Road teachers they looked for an objectivity that was then new in English painting.
Dick Lee was one of the most important followers of this approach. In his landscape paintings, painted on the spot, Lee sought to put down the essence of the subject whether it was a cricket match at the Oval or the hot afternoons and August sands of Normandy where he had a home. He had the ability to go straight for a particular moment or conjunction of time, light and place. His painting is admired for the lightness of his touch and the freedom of his handling of paint across the surface of the canvas as well as the organisation of the work, the pictorial space and construction. Lee was at his most radical in watercolour, oil pastel and gouache. These pictures have, as in many of Turner’s and all of Cezanne’s works on paper, the quality of private meditation. The watercolours possess a supreme economy of means; thin fluid washes floated across the paper until the subject emerges with gentle force.
In a series of ‘notices’ he alerted Camberwell students to important forthcoming exhibitions. These constructions were made from scrap timber, broken china, electrical flex, discarded brushes, dismembered toys and other bits of junk. The instantly recognisable caricatures of fellow artists and their work are an important record of some of the key names in post-war British painting, including Frank Auerbach, Tony Eyton and Patrick George. They demonstrate Lee’s delight in the quirky individuality of his colleagues and their professional obsessions.
Joseph Heller’s famous war satire, Catch 22, fascinated him, reflecting his own experiences in the navy during the Second World War. It inspired him to a series of paintings in which he reconstructed key moments from the book, visually rich scenes where the absurdities of war are revealed. The screen on show in this exhibition is one of the most important of these works, other paintings are held by the Imperial War Museum.
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Selected One-Man Exhibitions
New Grafton Gallery, London 1970-1992
Camden Arts Centre, London 1978
Cadogan Contemporary, London 1998, 1992,1995
Browse and Darby, London 2001
Imperial War Museum 2002
Selected Group Shows
John Moores 1961