Detroit – New York City
Few painters could portray the emotional loneliness of the African-Americans in the first half of the 20th century, but Hughie Lee-Smith’s body of work defined that turmoil. Ignored for decades, it wasn’t until winning the Emily Lowe Art Competition in 1957 that attention was paid. Soon after the Petite Gallery offered to represent his work.
In 1967 the National Gallery of Art and Design offered him membership, making the second African-American to join the gallery (after Henry Tanner). His reputation solidified, and Hughie Lee-Smith took a permanent position at Howard University where he helped establish the new black aesthetic in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
New York Times columnist Holland Carter described Smith’s work as possessing “an air of mystery” in his sparse, almost-barren worlds. His isolated childhood, guarded by an overprotective grandmother who would not permit “low-class” play, heavily influenced his work.
Solitary figures or small groups often often stand in stark landscapes made all the lonelier by Lee-Smith’s hatred of racism in the US. For many years his talent languished with little fanfare, and critics largely ignored him. In fact, it wasn’t until the late 1950s, after adopting New York City as his new home, that he finally received recognition.
Untitled (Man on Rooftop), oil on Masonite, 1954 (Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York City, NY). http://www.michaelrosenfeldart.com/artists/hughie-lee-smith-1915-1999
Confrontation, oil on canvas, 1970 (Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.) http://americanart.si.edu/collections/search/artwork/?id=78130
Duet, oil on canvas, 1987 (June Kelly Gallery, New York City, NY) http://www.junekellygallery.com/leesmith/leesmith.htm
Landscape, oil on board, 1947 (Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, GA) http://www.scadmoa.org/art/collections/landscape-1947
Michael Rosenfeld Gallery. “Hughie Lee-Smith 1915-1999.” 2014. http://www.michaelrosenfeldart.com/artists/hughie-lee-smith-1915-1999
Cotter, Holland. “Hughie Lee-Smith, 83, a Painter of Spare, Bleak Scenes Touched with Mystery.” March 1, 1999. http://www.nytimes.com/1999/03/01/arts/hughie-lee-smith-83-a-painter-of-spare-bleak-scenes-touched-with-mystery.html
Raynor, Vivien. “Art: A Painter Finally Gets His Due.” December 4, 1988. http://www.nytimes.com/1988/12/04/nyregion/art-a-painter-finally-gets-his-due.html