Lee Price is a highly skilled figurative painter acclaimed for her photorealistic paintings depicting compulsive indulgence with food. She paints herself surrounded with cupcakes and ice-cream in private moments inside on her bed or in bathtub. All her work is in fact an ongoing series of paintings addressing our obsession with eating, consumerism, addiction, and conflicting desires, some of them having their roots in a troubled relationship with food and issues pertaining to female body image. In one of her answers in the interview below, Lee shares with us how food becomes a metaphor in her work and why some of her viewers see her confined to a “lonely prison”:
Hello Lee, please tell us about yourself:
I was born in Elmira, New York. Since I started painting I have been focused on the often fraught relationship between women and food. I explore food’s role as liberator, crutch, drug and nourishment. Currently, I live and work in Beacon, New York. Cooking, hiking, reading- these are the things I spend most of my time doing when I’m not in my studio.
I’ve wanted to be an artist since I was in Kindergarten. My mother was a high school art teacher so I was around art at an early age. I can remember her sketching me and my sisters when I was very young. I went to Moore College of Art in Philadelphia and initially enrolled as an illustration major. After the first year I switched to Painting. Much later, when I was living in New York City, I studied privately with Alyssa Monks.
What is your artist’s statement? What is the effect of your art on your outlook / vision / personality?
My paintings ask: “What is it that truly nourishes us, and how honest can we be about the size of our hunger?”
I use food as a metaphor for the ways we distract ourselves from being present. Much of my work looks at compulsivity. The frenetic activity of the figures in my pieces contrasts with the placidness of their surroundings. The aerial view evokes the feeling of an out of body experience: the subject is watching herself engage in compulsive behavior but is unable to stop. There is an absurdity to the repetition of this act of compulsion. At the same time it is an attempt to find real nourishment.
Sometimes my paintings explore food as a means of rebellion. In these works, the figure stares out at her audience, defying their judgment. She revels in the absence of any censorship of her appetite and delights in the abundance that surrounds her.
We find that consumption, or rather a ‘consuming passion’ is an underlying theme of your work. Is there a personal relationship with food at the base of your art?
These are very personal paintings as I have a history with compulsive eating in my teens and twenties. I’m painting mainly about compulsivity with food. Using food as a means of “checking out”. When we are not able to sit with uncomfortable feelings we tend to grab for things to distract ourselves whether that be food, television, alcohol, drugs, etc. A few pieces speak about other things- acceptance of body, a need to self-nurture, defiance of acceptable behavior.
What are the unexpected reactions that you sometimes get from the viewers of your art? There’s a consolation and calm spread in your paintings but under that is a guarded disquietude. Do you agree with this observation?
I just read a blog post in which the writer described my work as “The subject matter is so heavy and sad, but the images are so soft and beautiful. You quickly realize that what, on first glance, looks like an afternoon tea party is actually a very lonely prison.” Most often, that is exactly what I intend the viewer to see. However, after first seeing the beauty and then realizing the affliction I’d like the viewer to see that it is both at the same time. I think most things in life are like this- nothing is completely good, nothing is completely bad.
Tell us about your method of painting and the time it takes to finish a work:
I work with my photographer, Tom Moore, to capture the scenes. After choosing the image that I want to work from, I sketch an outline of that image on to the canvas using an overhead projector. I work closely from the photographs as I paint. Most of the painting is done in one layer as opposed to glazing. The paintings can take anywhere from 1 to 4 months to complete depending on the complexity of the scene.
I think of “Full” (see above) as a special painting due to the fact that it was the first of this series. I had set up a scene to shoot- a sort of Alice in Wonderland thing. In the foreground, a table was set for what would seem to be a tea party and in the background a figure was sleeping in a chair. It wasn’t working. I had purchased insane amounts of desserts and props for this shoot and I didn’t want to waste them. So I threw an antique tablecloth down on the floor, placed all the deserts on top of it, lay down in the middle of the food and had a friend get on a ladder and photograph it. I still didn’t quite understand it, but I knew I had something that inspired me. It took a while to grasp the significance of everything.
Art is part of the culture at large and that culture has felt an impact from the advent of social media. My personal feelings toward social media are that it is a necessary evil. Sometimes I want to permanently unplug and go off the grid. However, I am completely aware and appreciative that this is how my work gets seen. The Internet and social media allow millions of people to access my images and I have easy access to viewing the work of millions of other artists. However, at the same time, this doesn’t seem to make things easier. It seems to make things more exhausting. Trends move incredibly quickly. The Internet often becomes a time suck. I get nostalgic for a time when I wrote letters to my friends on actual paper. It wasn’t that hard back then because you only had 6 or 7 friends, not 5,000.
My work was featured in Juxtapoz Hyperreal that recently came out. That is the only book currently out that is featuring my work. All of my paintings are sold through EVOKE Contemporary in Santa Fe. I rarely meet my clients unless they are local to New Mexico.
One of my favorite quotes is by Eleanor Roosevelt, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do”. I often find inspiration in the way others live their lives. I love reading memoirs and non-fiction. I have read almost every book by MFK Fisher. “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle and “Man’s Search For Meaning” by Victor Frankl are two books that I continually find inspiration in. I love Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking” and Caroline Knapp’s “Appetites”. I also tend towards female authors. I find inspiration in watching the people around me. For instance, the way my boyfriend truly appreciates life. This is what helps me navigate my own life.
In regard to motivation, I guess I’m simply motivated by my thoughts and ideas. I have ideas and I want to get them down, make them concrete. I want to make a thought into an image and put it up on a wall. I think it must be very similar to what would motivate a writer.