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About this Artist
Born in Joplin, Missouri in 1930, Lea studied painting at Kansas State College of Pittsburg, studying under notable American artists Eugene Larkin and Eliot O’Hara. Following this, he earned a master’s degree in printmaking at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. In his early career, Lea has exhibited widely throughout the Mid West, including numerous annual competitive exhibitions at the Springfield Art Museum, the Ozark Artist Guild, and the Kansas Federation of Arts among others. Starting in the 1950s Lea completed many mural projects across the United States, including several in Kansas and, later, at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.
Upon moving to Texas, Lea taught in the art department of Sam Houston State University in Huntsville from 1961 until his retirement in 1993, where he started the department’s printmaking program. Lea exhibited widely in galleries and museum exhibitions across the state in the 1960-70s, including Valley House Gallery in Dallas, Gates Gallery of Port Arthur, and Houston Public Library. He was awarded first place for a mixed media work in the 68th National Exhibition at the Laguna Gloria Museum in Austin, which was sponsored by the Texas Fine Arts Association in conjunction with the Texas Fine Arts Festival in 1979. In 1978, 28 of Lea’s prints were placed in international and national museums, making his museum representation over 62. In the 1960, 70, 80s, Lea exhibited at Moody gallery in the 1970s alongside notable Texas artists Lamar Briggs, Lucas Johnson, Charles Pebworth, Fritz Scholder, and Arthur Turner.
In addition to his painting and collage work, Lea is best known for his pioneering experimental print making techniques related to viscosity printing, also known as calligraphy prints which are made from an innovative printing method that results in a printed collage. He first began experimenting with the collagraph method in 1965. Using an ink viscosity process and techniques employed in relief, lithograph, and intaglio printing. Lea prints all the colors he plans to use on a collage simultaneously rather than printing the colors separately, the standard printing method. And also unlike traditional printing methods, the surface of the material to be printed from is not cut away or incised in Lea’s work. Instead, the surface (usually Masonite) is built up by pasting materials on the surface. In one of his earlier collagraphs, Lea pasted such things as sandpaper and lace on Masonite and lacquered the entire collage to make it permanent before printing from it. As seen in Lea’s experimental prints of the 1960 and 1970s, the effects of this technique create complex and colorful compositions with highly textured surfaces and varying tonal effects. Thus, the process results in unique prints ideal for a small edition.
Because of the complexity of the process Lea employs in his work, he usually only makes about 15 prints in each edition. Lea notes, “Creating a piece of art takes moments of inspiration and a whole lot of work…There is a difference between talent and creativity. There are many people who are talented and can do something well, but an artist is principally someone who is creative and has the ability to express it.” Lea describes his work as being very abstract. “There’s a nebulous, general underlying idea in my works, which are mostly of landscapes and figures. When my works are finally resolved, they are suggestive of fantasy, “ Lea says. In some of his compositions, there is no subject matter, but instead the work reflects a relationship of visual elements that the artist conceives as being expressive of time. "My work never consciously refers to subject matter," Lea said in a statement regarding his work, "but begins with a subconscious directive, searching for a visual idea that is formal and aesthetic."
In a career spanning more than three decades, Lea has received numerous accolades for his work, which has been displayed in galleries all over the world from Huntsville to the Louvre in Paris. His works can be found in museums across the United States, including the Smithsonian, De Young Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and Utah Museum of Fine Arts.
Selected Biographical and Career Highlights
1930 - Born in Joplin, Missouri
1953 - B.F.A.- Pittsburg State University, Pittsburg, Kansas
1961 - M.F.A.- University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas
1961-1993 - Professor of Art, Sam Houston State University
1963-1965 - Professor of Art, Mexican Field School, Puebla, Mexico
1968, 1969, 1970 - Visiting Professor, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
1977-1978 - Professor of Art, Study Abroad Program, London, England
2017 - Passed away in Tyler, Texas
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