Joanna Paitchell Lee is having her first real art show this weekend, and her enthusiasm is palpable.
“It’s the most exciting thing that’s happened to me,” says Joanna who lives in East Hampton with her husband, David Lee.
The show opens Saturday from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Crazy Monkey Gallery, a fine arts cooperative in Amagansett in which members exhibit on a rotating basis. For Joanna, who came to painting later in life, the show is a validation that she is, in fact, an artist.Â
“I’ve been a scribbler all my life. On the blackboard or edges of pages,” she says. “But I started doing things a little more purposefully when I came out here in 1993.”
Even then, notes Joanna, she didn’t feel entitled to call what she did “art” because she hadn’t actually gone to art school.Â
“It’s the entitlement disease,” says Joanna whose initial medium was charcoal and who honed her skills through life drawing workshops in Southampton. Soon things began to fall into place.
“I worked there for quite some time until I realized, ‘I think I’m getting better.’ Artists passed by while I was working and said, ‘Good knee,’ or ‘That’s a great ear.’ But I did it on my own,” says Joanna. “It was exciting, but I wondered, am I committing great artistic sins?”
In time, Joanna, who taught English for many years and also worked in the fashion industry and as a food stylist, found Neill Slaughter, a professorÂ of art at Southampton College.Â
“He taught me to look,” she recalls. “He taught me about value, shades of light and dark — it was something I never knew.” Â
“I also found out that I hadn’t done anything terrible, and actually did a couple things right,” notes Joanna. “Gradually I lost the fear of not being entitled.”
In recent years, Joanna has painted under the tutelage of Southampton artist Paton Miller, who has become a close friend.
“He inspires you to make art when you don’t realize you’re doing it,” she says. “He’s uncovered something for me, he said, ‘You do better when you draw with a brush, rather than charcoal. You’re more spontaneous and things come out that are more interesting.’”
Last summer, while painting at the Art Barge, Joanna was shocked when she found that her spontaneity led to abstract work.
“I’m not an abstract artist, but it began coming out,” she says. “I was so amazed. It was as if I were not there and my hand was obeying something that came from deep within. I was making abstract art and people crowded around me to see what would happen.”
“Then it stopped,” she adds.
When asked where the abstract energy came from, Joanna notes, “I think it has to do with what Paton said — I’m better with shapes, I’m more creative with the brush. But it’s a big step to go right to oil without drawing.”
Another big step for Joanna is this show and she credits the artists of the Crazy Monkey Gallery for taking her to the next level.
“It took me a while to want to show and feel like I was ready,” says Joanna. “Then I found these people. They’re great.”
And these days, Joanna Paitchell Lee no longer wonders if she’s entitled to call herself an artist.Â
“I don’t have to give myself permission to do anything anymore,” she smiles.
Joanna Paitchell Lee’s show runs untilÂ February 2 at Crazy Monkey Gallery (136 Main Street, Amagansett). Also featured is work by Wilhelmina Howe.Â
Above: A painting of a puppet by Joanna Paitchell Lee (C.B. Grubb photo)