Lee is known for his early works with splashes and blobs of paint influenced by Jackson Pollock. His later works evolved to be sparse, flat, geometric landscapes in bold colors and earth tones. This work done in 1989 is a fusion of representational figure drawing and abstraction which is at once very post-modern. Lee who is a passionate Modernist also loved the classics. In figurative drawing and painting, the hand is the most difficult part to draw. It is the part of the human anatomy that tests the mettle of an artist. Here, Lee’s hand as a 12-year-old child is the subject. The hand is detailed and delicate and looks like the hand found in the “santos” or sacred images. It is a hand that evokes purity and innocence. Yet, this hand is painted on a textured brown surface — brown being the color of the earth and all things material.
So much had transpired at age 56 when he painted his 12-year-old hand. Gone is the innocent, unsullied, happy little Lee who has become older, wiser, weary, worn out by his own life’s challenges and misfortunes. When he was 12, he had a happy family with his parents and 3 other younger siblings. At 15, he was shipped to the US to attend military school to get some discipline. When he expressed his desire to be an artist, his dad did everything to squish his dreams. He defied him and went on to follow his Muse. He became a painter who lived a bohemian life, he hung out with other artists, had relationships with more modern, unconventional women, and experimented with drugs and alcohol.
Because Lee refused to work with the family business, his father Daniel cut off his allowance. As a result, he had no stipend. He was evicted from Patio Madrigal, he and his kids and partner Melba moved to his grandparents’ home in V. Mapa. His sick father continued to write him eviction letters until he succumbed to cancer. In 1988, Lee, together with his family and mother Helen were finally evicted from the V. Mapa ancestral home.
The Aguinaldo fortunes were dissipated and the business was now controlled by their lawyer and his father’s business associates. Lee lived through the kindness of friends, art patrons, and galleries like Galleria Duemila. Artist Fernando Zobel supported him until his death. Melba his partner through, sheer hard work, reenvineered her life from fashion model to dentist so she could also help the family because Lee’s income as an artist was not regular.
From a life of privilege and luxury to a life of austerity and deprivation. 12-year-old Lee “grew up” through all this. Though at 56 he was financially decrepit with an inheritance reduced to a pittance, his defiance and steadfast determination and passion to follow his Muse created another form of wealth — his formidable talent as a new master of abstraction and Modern art in the Philippine art scene.