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Artist, Humorist, Humanitarian, Icon
Annie Lee has established herself internationally not only as an artist, but a respected and business savvy entrepreneur. Her noted ability to convey feelings through the faceless subjects of her paintings has won her a place in history as one of the icons of African American art.
Born in Gadsden, Alabama in 1935 and raised in Chicago, Annie grew up learning how to cook, wash, clean and sew. These survival skills, which she learned along with her brother, instilled in her a work ethic that has served her well. In addition to sewing, Annie learned to knit, crochet and draw. She began painting at age ten in elementary school, where she won her first art contest and received a free semester of study at the Art Institute of Chicago. She continued honing her artistic skills resulting in a four-year scholarship to Northwestern University. However, she chose marriage and raising a family over attending school.
Lee did not resume painting until she was 40 years old. By then, she had lost two husbands to cancer and raised a daughter from her first marriage and a son from her second. While working as the chief clerk at Northwestern Railroad, Annie studied art at night, eventually earning a masters degree in Interdisciplinary Art from Loyola University.
Annie worked during the day and painted at night. Painting became her refuge from the work that inspired one of her most famous paintings – “Blue Monday.” The painting depicts a woman struggling to pull herself out of bed on a Monday morning – a feeling Annie could relate to. Her dedication to her art proved successful when at her first gallery show in 1985 she sold all of her pieces within four hours. In fact, it was so successful that she allowed prints to be made from some of her originals to meet the demand for her work. However, Annie didn’t want to lose the security of her “day job” and continued to work for the railroad.
Then, in 1986, she lost her son to a tragic car accident. It was not only one of her darkest moments, but a turning point in her life. She took off time to grieve and while doing so, decided it was time to step out on faith with her talent. She never returned to the railroad and the rest is history.
Having been showcased in galleries around the world, Annie is an internationally recognized painter and an original piece of her work sells for anywhere between $4,000 and $20,000. Her art has been used as decorations for television and movie sets such as “A Different World”, “227,” “Coming to America,” “Boomerang,” and “Barber Shop.” Her business acumen, however, led her to develop a line of figurines and home décor items recreated from her paintings that offer the opportunity for everyone, on any budget, to own a piece of Annie Lee.
After many years, Lee left Chicago for the warm weather of the Southwest. Her new life in Las Vegas allows her to paint outdoors – something beneficial for her health. She receives numerous requests to appear in public however, she prefers to appear at gallery shows and interact and chat with the people in attendance. She also likes to visit schools. She encourages students to concentrate on something they like, stating that “You’re going to be working all of your life, so just do what makes you happy! And, if you are able to make others happy while doing what makes you happy, what more could you ask?”
Annie is as iconic to the world of African American art as Michael Jordan is to basketball. She has rightfully earned her place among the great artists of our race. Her success is not only based on her skill as a painter, but on her ability to touch us at our core. Her art reflects on our history, our families, our struggles, our joy, our strengths, our weaknesses, our pride, our idiosyncrasies and on the faith that sustains us. Artist, Humorist, Humanitarian, Icon – she is “OUR” Annie Lee.
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