Charles Lee is a diverse, multi-talented artist with the capability of creating various forms of art, from pencil-drawn portraits to tranquil landscapes, arresting abstracts, and serene musicians.
Lee gained a following in the 1970s when exhibiting in Hong Kong and Tokyo, and in the 1980s his popularity soared when his art reached the United States. Lee’s ability to capture femininity and the spirit of music in three different styles makes him a sought-out artist around the world.
Growing up in Seoul, Korea, Lee began showing an affinity for art at the young age of 7. However, Lee’s father did not approve of his interest in art, so Lee would hide in order to draw. In high school, he received his first official artistic honor—a gold medal in an international competition. Lee recalls bringing awards for his art home and his father destroying them.
“I have had many hardships as an artist, but nothing has been able to stop me. As long as I have life in me, I will paint,” Lee says.
Despite his father’s admonishments, Lee went on to major in art at university. He held his first show at the age of 23.
In the 1970s, Lee exhibited in group shows in Hong Kong and Tokyo. He presented his second solo exhibition at the Tae Yoon and Man Kang galleries in Seoul, bringing him wider acclaim.
During the 1980s, while employed at the Gaius Art Studio, many of Lee’s works were introduced to the United States. Lee subsequently arrived in the United States in 1991 and worked with a Miami wholesaler of fine art.
Today, Lee shows his true talent and versatility as an artist. His art reflects his uncompromisingly high standards. He resides in Florida with his wife and two children. His daughter, Jana, is an artist in her own right, inspired by her father’s encouragement to pursue art. Alongside their own art, Charles and Jana create paintings together.
Style and Influences
Lee embraces oils, watercolors, and acrylics. He also has a penchant for painting with a bright, eye-catching palette(including gold foil) that demonstrates his keen sense of color. Yet in spite of such vibrant imagery he presents his subjects in a calm and reflective—almost ethereal—way.
Lee primarily paints in three distinct styles. The first is a classical, representational style with notes of romanticism. The second is a contemporary naïve style noted for its simplicity and flat expressions. His backgrounds are colorful planes harkening to Cubism, showing a mastery of defining space. A third, purely abstract style emerged as well. Of his styles, Lee prefers his modern approach, believing it instills his subjects with more life.
His low-relief and richly textured mixed media compositions are accomplished through the use of Gesso, giving his artwork the illusion of emerging from the canvas.
Lee reveals a knowledge and fascination with Roman, Greek, and Egyptian architecture. His frequent use of columns recalls classical Greek and Roman history.
“I want people to be there…to be inside of this period in time…inside those beautiful buildings,” Lee says.
Music plays an important role in Lee’s life and work. The subjects of his art are often seen playing instruments in serene settings. Lee’s wife and many of his family members are musicians, inspiring him to experiment with musical themes. The positive reaction from collectors encouraged him to pursue this theme throughout his career.
The artist is also interested in exploring the dimensions of the female form, traditionally set against neo-classical backdrops such as palaces or mansions. He sees his women as neither totally Eastern nor Western, but a new ethnicity only existing in his mind.