Oil on linen canvas, 1991-95. 914x813 mm; 36x32 inches.
Provenance: the estate of the artist; thence by descent to the current owner.
Exhibited: Stages of Influence: The Universal Theatre of Hughie Lee-Smith, University of New Mexico Art Museum, Albuquerque, NM, February 6 - June 3, 2001.
Illustrated: Stages of Influence: The Universal Theatre of Hughie Lee-Smith, University of New Mexico Art Museum, Albuquerque, NM, front cover; p. 14, plate 5.
This striking canvas epitomizes the theater found in Hughie Lee-Smith's late-career painting. Lee-Smith's enigmatic and isolated figues are depicted as actors or perfomers on a stage with various elements of cultural symbolism. Here an African-American young woman stands proudly before the viewer on a bare stage. The wall behind her is decorated with a torn poster bill with an image of herself, a well-known Japanese ukiyo-e print image by Sharaku of a kabuki actor (now breathing fire) and a variety of graffiti. This evocative image displays Lee-Smith's exploration of how identity is constructed in the staging of his 1990s paintings.
These imagined scenes recall Lee-Smith's early experiences of dance and theater while working at the Playhouse Settlement (named Karamu House in 1941) during the WPA period in Cleveland. Lee-Smith taught art at Karamu House in the late 1930s in return for the full scholarship to the Cleveland School of Art (now the Art Institute of Cleveland) that the Gilpin Players awarded him in 1935. Inspired by the Gilpin Players, a black acting troupe, Lee-Smith also founded an inter-racial modern dance troupe there.