Categories
Asia Sacred Practice Women

Sacred Waters: Ganga

Lee Lee watercolor painting of Varanasi India

A journey through northern India included a visit to Bodhgaya, where we found a tree considered sacred because it had grown from the tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment. We also spent time in Varnasi, along the river considered sacred in Hindu traditions. I was deeply moved by people’s interactions with the river as they performed cleansing rituals and completed daily chores along the ancient Ghats. At the time we were there, the river was receding, leaving the huge stairs caked with piles of mud. These were steadily cleared back into the river by teams of workers, steadily completing this annual task amidst those who were laundering, praying and mourning. It is believed that if one dies here, they will be re-born at a higher level in the caste system, so there are many people who come here to die and many who mourn their lost ones. I retain a poignant memory of a half burnt corpse submerged with the remnants of ceremonial fabric; firewood is expensive on the burning ghats, and if a family doesn’t have enough, the half burned remains are strewn into the river. Struck by how polluted the river was, we were surprised and delighted to see the rare fresh water dolphins from a boat floating in waters lit quietly by the dawn. We went on this journey in 2005 to celebrate 30 years circling the sun. I created this series of watercolors the following year.

This imagery also inspired The Making of Dust, a mixed media painting created in response to the poem of the same name by Drew Myron

Lee Lee watercolor painting of Varanasi India
watercolor, pencil, oxidized copper & blood on handmade Indian paper | 29” x 21.5”
In the collection of Susan Kirk, Denver
Lee Lee watercolor painting of Varanasi India
Mudflats | watercolor, pencil, oxidized copper & blood on handmade Indian paper | 21.5” x 29”
Lee Lee watercolor painting of Varanasi India
When offerings are washed ashore and lay on the mud, the Laundry is taken out | watercolor, pencil, oxidized copper & blood on handmade Indian paper | 21.5” x 29” | Reworked & completed March 2008
On view at the Distillery, Taos
Lee Lee watercolor painting of Varanasi India
Ghat | watercolor, pencil, oxidized copper & blood on handmade Indian paper | 21.5” x 29”
Lee Lee watercolor painting of Varanasi India
FLow: Early Morning Rituals along the Sacred Ganga | watercolor, pencil, oxidized copper & blood on handmade Indian paper | 6” x 8” | Reworked & completed February 2010
On view at the Distillery, Taos
Lee Lee watercolor painting of Varanasi India
In Mourning on the Ganga in the Morn | watercolor, pencil, oxidized copper & blood on handmade Indian paper | 29” x 21.5”
Private collection, Denver
Lee Lee watercolor painting of Varanasi India
Sadhu | watercolor, pencil, oxidized copper & blood on handmade Indian paper | 29” x 21.5”
On view at the Distillery, Taos
Categories
Asia Sacred Practice Women

The Making of Dust

Drawing from Varanasi, India by Lee Lee
The Making of Dust – detail

This painting was inpired by the poem The Making of Dust by Drew Myron. It was created for an invitational exhibition at Weilworks in Denver, in which all artists were asked to create a work inspired specifically by this poem by Drew Myron. Integrating imagery of cracked earth and a woman immersed in prayer from Varanasi, India, the work was drawn into paper which had been printed with fresh tar using a pickup truck.

The Making of Dust
Drew Myron

The car roars past the turned face

no burning regret
no slow moving sorrow
this the near-miss noticed
indifferent

the ledge trembles still we hold
hands dive.
We are this secure, this fragile
a marriage of disconnects
confessions comforts a faint
light forming

This is the making of dust
a layer tangible as grace
the earth cracks
soundless beneath our feet.

The making of Dust by Lee Lee
The Making of Dust | tar, watercolor, graphite & oil pastel on Strathmore | 30” x 22”
Private collection, Denver
Categories
Sacred Practice Women

Pietà

Torched Angels from Havana’s Graveyard

We had the opportunity to travel to Cuba in the winter of 2000. I was inspired to paint this series based on the feelings I received from meeting artists, exploring Havana’s International Art Biennial, discovering the coutryside and convening with a Santaria Priest. The layers of history, emotion and social relationships are complex. There is a great deal of pride and frustration both. The portrayed figures come from photographs I took through Havana’s main cemetery. For me, the series of white stone angels and portraits of the Virgin Mary were charged with a similar range of emotions I felt while meandering through the various urban neighborhoods and landscapes there. There is a great deal of loss held by community members yet they continue to hold strong to the qualities that define them as uniquely Cuban.

The works were created with a blowtorch. I burned layers of collaged materials then painted the portraits of the cold marble figures atop of the charred works. At this time in my creative evolution, I was exploring ways of conveying resilience in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges. I remember a particular conversation with a group of musicians in Pinar del Rio about how my process integrated destruction into the textual layers of a work. I had shown them a series of works from Cambodia, where I had portrayed icons from Angkor Wat atop layers of wood I had torn up with a shotgun. They questioned the order in which the works were made, asking if I was mutilating these figures in an aggressive way. I told them than no, indeed I was not. The figures grew as representations of an enlightened state out of the fields that were pieced together from the violent process of literally tearing it up with a shotgun. The conversation made me acutely aware of how process contributed to the meaning inherit in this kind of work.

Cuban Angel painting by Lee Lee
Cuban Angel painting by Lee Lee
Cuban Angel painting by Lee Lee
Cuban Angel painting by Lee Lee
Cuban Angel painting by Lee Lee
Cuban Angel painting by Lee Lee
Cuban Angel painting by Lee Lee
Cuban Angel painting by Lee Lee
Cuban Angel painting by Lee Lee
Cuban Angel painting by Lee Lee