An Instagram-Famous Artist Plays With Figure and Food in Beacon
Lee Price crafts inspiring, provocative art and shares her expertise in intimate workshop settings.
Photos provided by Lee Price
Last time we spoke with Lee Price, the year was 2012 and Price had just been named one of our “People to Watch.” An artist by trade, Price was quickly making a name for herself as a photorealistic artist who explores the powerful relationships between women, their bodies, and food. Her signature “Women and Food” series highlights the raw, complex ways in which women interact with food and, ultimately, with themselves.
More recently, Price, who resides in Beacon, expanded her work to include a portraiture series, titled “Surfacing,” and in-house workshop sessions designed to instruct and engage with developing artists. On her Instagram, which captivates around 17,000 followers, she posts snapshots of her creative process, including behind-the-scenes glimpses into how she stages and composes her buzzworthy paintings. We caught up with the talented creative, who works with oil paint on linen, to learn more about her inspiration, her process, and her plans for the future.
You last spoke with Hudson Valley Magazine in 2012. How has your work progressed since then?
For the past couple of years, I have been working on two separate series: a series of portraits and a pentaptych titled “Surfacing.”
The portrait series is a group of paintings featuring close-up, life-size images. They are intended to stand the historical concept of the portrait on its head. No attempt is made to render the subjects (they are all self-portraits) attractive to the viewer. The subjects are all eating, but not in a way that’s posed for the viewer’s gaze. They just eat, for themselves, unconcerned with how it looks. What emerges is an unfettered, uncensored view of the women, rather than an idealized image. I had dresses made for these portraits to match the background of the paintings. My intent was to have the figures meld into the background, not to disappear, but to expand themselves into an environment they have chosen. The idea is to eradicate the view of women as decoration.
And the “Surfacing” series?
I use the art historical subject matter of ‘woman in tub’ to talk not about compulsion but about distortion. The way the water distorts the figure is a reflection of the way we distort ourselves – both physically, with dieting and surgery, and emotionally, by falsifying and validating our needs – in order to fit into a patriarchal world. When we distort ourselves, we lose ourselves.
The way the bodies are distorted also suggests that our normal sense of solidarity is, in fact, illusory. Visually, this emphasizes that life is transient. Beneath the illusion of their body’s distorted image created by the turbulent water, these women experience what appears to be a process of self-transformation. The womb-like environment of the tub suggests rebirth, baptism, a right of passion.
How about the Women and Food series? Has it progressed since you first started it?
I began painting [it] in earnest in 2007. Even back in college, many of my paintings were of my female friends in specific environments with food randomly placed throughout a scene: someone holding a bunch of carrots, a banana placed on a windowsill.
The earliest paintings were specifically about compulsive eating, which was about compulsivity in general. The scenes were often frenetic, yet set in serene, private environments, typically bathrooms and bedrooms. I employed a bird’s eye perspective to create a sense that the subject was looking down on herself, watching herself in the act, unable to stop. The images are soft and beautiful, but they address a disturbing subject matter. What at first glance looks like an afternoon tea party is, on closer inspection, revealed as a very lonely prison.
As the series progressed, the figures in the paintings would sometimes turn outward and “eye” the viewer, showing an acceptance of their hunger. Later pieces move away from food as a distraction and toward a greater sense of integration. So, in the latest portrait series, food isn’t a shameful thing; it’s more of a means of liberation through acceptance.
What are reactions to the works generally like?
The breadth of the response to the Women and Food series was shocking to me. The subject matter is kind of harrowing, sometimes, but I get emails from people – mostly women, but also some men – telling me that my work has given them a sense that they’re not alone.
You also do workshops now. When did you start those up and how have they gone so far?
I started in my studio [in Beacon] about two years ago and I have held three or four a year. I limit them to six students, so it is a very intimate setting. The small class size allows me to give each student the personal attention they need. I can have six students at six different levels and still make sure that everybody gets something out of it.
What does the future hold for you?
I have been working on expanding my own technique beyond what I’ve been teaching in the workshops, focusing more on painting from life. Right now, all I can really tell you is that I’m very into doughnuts. Where that will lead is still to be seen.