Anthony Lee received his BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. Amidst international travels, he worked for the Polo Ralph Lauren Corporation as an associate art director in men’s design and also as an associate designer for Gentlemen’s Wear in New York City. The accomplished artist and designer decided to make Hawa‘’i his residence and has taught at the Punahou Academy Summer School since 2002. In 2000, he earned a National Society of Arts and Letters Honolulu Chapter Teacher Recognition Award. He continues to share his expertise with the people of Hawai’i by teaching at the Honolulu Academy of Arts’ Academy Art Center Linekona.
Accomplished artist and designer, Lee reveals his skill as a draughtsman and his fashion background in this series of portraits of fallen men (and one woman) in the resplendent dress of power. The subject matter of Deposed, as is of much art that matters, is a contemplation on loss. The medium-sized drawings using colored graphite to its full effect have a sense of calm- almost a cold detachment in their cleanliness, and Lee’s practice of drawing on the ghostly, milk-white of vellum does work for some subjects. It seems as if each former leader is frozen in the shock of having been stripped of what was for some, absolute power.
It is impossible to see the portraits, the dates, their countries of origin, without recollecting some context. Few would argue the necessity of Abraham Lincoln as a subject (especially considering the 150th anniversary of those first shots at Fort Sumter), however a few of the others are a bit more questionable. Emperor Maximilion of Mexico and Italy’s Mussolini jump out as two who certainly had-it-a-comin’.
History teaches us that change is inevitable. Coups, violent overthrow, and abrupt regime change are not limited to the 19th and 20th centuries. An amended Deposed could include portraits of Saddam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak, and shortly, Muammar Gaddafi. In this version of the show, Lincoln wears those famous war-induced lines that criss cross his face prior to his assassination, and they are drawn in the faint pinks and purples of a tropical sunset, barely visible from over a few feet away. The effect works. A modern American viewer used to seeing this visage daily on currency experiences something new in the simple deletion of the extraneous.
Fashion plays an understated role in the drawings. The sole female of the group, Queen Lili‘uokalani, appears resplendent in her dignified dress. All that regalia, the 19th century pomp that was for naught for many of these leaders, continues to provide artistic provenance. Lee uses the classical technique of working the most essential parts of a portrait in with care and leaving the other parts open to guide lines of the imagination. We can see the admiration the artist carries for the uniforms as a former fashion designer, but more importantly we don’t see the unnecessary marks of a novice draughtsman. Lee intelligently lets us imagine the splendor of the Queen’s broach, it being of secondary value to her eyes.
In the simplest of drawn terms, Lee invites us to discuss the broader issues of power and loss. That the drawings have something of a detachment is altogether appropriate. It is, as they say, history.