I had the pleasure of interviewing the great Lee Price this week. We talked bathtub challenges, food, and her upbringing in a house full of women.
Lee Price is well known for her women & food painting. Their extreme detail and photo realism are astonishing, if you can even tell it’s not a picture.
Did you always know that you wanted to become a painter?
My mother was a high school art teacher and so I grew up being exposed to art. She would take my sisters and me to galleries and art museums when I was very young. I would watch her make drawing and watercolor paintings. I remember being amazed at how she could make things look so real. Even from a young age, I always knew that I wanted to be some type of artist.
What is your process? Are the settings you paint real places?
I work from photographs and I have a professional photographer that shoots my “scenes”. I usually start with a picture of the scene in my head. Then I make sketches of my idea and search for any props that I need in order to create the scene. My photographer comes. We set up the scene and he takes hundreds of photographs. The camera is mounted on scaffolding and hooked up to a computer screen that is positioned so that I can see every shot. Even though I only work from a single photo sometimes it’s necessary to shoot for several hours to get what I want. I project the image onto my canvas and draw an outline of the image. I then work closely with the photo to complete the painting.
Did you ever run into any memorable challenges as an artist?
Most of my artistic challenges are related to my bathtub photo-shoots. Things like trying to hold my head under water without blowing water out my nose. The water kept rushing up my nose. Luckily my photographer happened to have a clothes pin so we clothes pinned my nose shut. Having to be submerged in a bathtub full of acidic lemon slices for eight hours was a challenge.
Where did the inspiration to paint women and food come from?
I’ve been painting women and food for over 20 years. In college I focused primarily on figures in environments. I would make large, life size paintings of women in interiors and have food randomly placed about the scene- someone holding a bunch of carrots, a stray banana on a window ledge, a seated woman feeding an orange to a dog. Back then I had no conscious understanding of what these scenes were about. It wasn’t until I started this specific series, about 10 years ago, that I began to have clarity about the theme. I had struggled off and on for decades with a compulsive eating disorder. I was painting about myself and the message of my work became clearer the more I pursued it. I believe in the saying that “the more personal, the more universal”. My paintings are personal and they resonate with others who have experienced the same issues- issues of compulsiveness, struggles with food, etc.
How has your environment affected your work?
I grew up in a household of all women. I lived with my mother and 2 older sisters. Although my father lived in the same town he was not a consistent presence in my life when I was growing up. Both grandfathers had passed away before I was born. No other male relatives lived nearby. I even attended an all women’s college. This obviously has shaped my view of the world. Growing up, my mother took care of all aspects of our day to day life- she worked full time, cooked, took care of the house, the yard work, etc. We lived in a house that was built around the turn of the 19th century- a big, old house. I can remember her climbing up a ladder to change out the heavy storm windows on the second floor. There was no task that was delineated by gender; no task not meant for a woman to complete. Gender issues were not a huge part of my schema growing up. I am sure this has had an influence on my work.
Lee’s work can be found on her website leepricestudio.com or on instagram @leepricestudio