Oil landscape painting
EMILIE LEE (b. 1981), "Bears Ears National Monument," 2018, oil on panel, 10 x 20 in.

There is a lot of superb contemporary realism being made these days; this article by Allison Malafronte shines light on a gifted individual.

Most days EMILIE LEE (b. 1981) can be found in the great outdoors, painting en plein air at bucolic locations around the country or enjoying her favorite outdoor activities. “In the three years since I left New York City, plein air painting has allowed me the freedom to travel the world, practice my craft wherever I am, and support my lifestyle by selling the work on Instagram,” the artist shares.

In addition to recording the beauty of nature in paintings, Lee is passionate about preserving the land she loves. In 2017 she wrote an article for the outerwear purveyor Patagonia detailing a project of which she is particularly proud: a series of paintings created on Montana’s Northern Great Plains.

She explained how deeply the Hudson River School painters’ reverence for nature resonated with her, as did the fact that their work helped inspire the creation of America’s national park system. In keeping with their principles, Lee participated in the Grand Central Atelier’s Hudson River Fellowship for six consecutive summers and went on to become one of its senior fellows.

“As my abilities and confidence grew, so did my dreams of how I could apply my artistry to the modern-day fight for wilderness conservation,” Lee wrote. “I imagined that I would end up traveling to the Arctic and painting the disappearing ice, but as fate would have it, I found a lesser-known and more uplifting story much closer to home.”

American Prairie Reserve is a nonprofit organization that protects 3.5 million acres of wildlife habitat on Montana’s Northern Great Plains. Lee has made several trips there to create more than 50 paintings while sharing her journey on social media and selling the resulting works through Bozeman’s Old Main Gallery.

Since her Montana project began, Lee’s loves of painting, outdoor adventure, and conservation have continued to find natural intersections. In the painting “Bears Ears National Monument” (above), for instance, she brings the clarity of a sunny Utah day into view as only someone intimately familiar with the area can.

An avid rock climber, Lee has been visiting Bears Ears since 1999. When she learned that this desert area’s protected status would be severely compromised, she took action by making a series of paintings on site and designating a portion of its proceeds to the Grand Canyon Trust.

Emilie Lee painting the Matilija Poppy bloom
Emilie Lee painting the Matilija Poppy bloom at the Vedanta Center Montecito during the 2020 Covid lockdown. Photo by Lauren Ross.

The above article was originally published in Fine Art Connoisseur in 2019. We followed up with Emily recently, who told us:

“A lot has changed in my life since that article came out. I spent the past year quarantined at home and painting local scenes of flowers, orange and lemon trees, commissions of family scenes at the beach, and still lifes. I’ve also been pregnant for the past six months, which has kept me in lockdown mode since Covid is still a concern where we live.

“It has been a great year for painting and I feel so grateful to live in a place that has so much beautiful inspiration. 2020 turned out to be a wonderful opportunity for me to become more familiar with our local landscape, which is still new to me. I moved to Santa Barbara in 2017 and until Covid I spent most of my time traveling on adventurous painting and climbing trips. Although I miss traveling a lot right now, I’m really happy with how my painting practice has evolved with my more grounded lifestyle. I’m anticipating more big changes ahead with the arrival of my first baby, but feeling very excited and optimistic about what new directions my painting will take me in the years to come.”

Additional Oil Paintings by Emilie Lee:

Oil painting of flowers
Emilie Lee, “Echinacea,” 6″x8″ oil on panel, 2020
Oil painting of a mountain view
Emilie Lee, “Sweet Mountaintop Farm,” 8″x12″ oil on panel, 2020
Oil painting of an orange tree
Emilie Lee, “Oranges Under Quarantine,” 11″x14″ oil on panel, 2020
Oil painting of mother and child on beach
Emilie Lee, “Miramar Afternoon,” 8″x10″ oil on panel, 2020
Oil painting of flowers
Emilie Lee, “Matilija Poppies #6,” 8″x8″ oil on panel, 2020
Oil painting of an orange tree
Emilie Lee, “Julia’s Oranges,” 6″x6″ oil on panel, 2020

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