The first time I saw Richard Lee he was wearing a dress. It was Halloween and cross-dressing couples were all the rage back then. Not that Richard would need an excuse. He just didn’t care what anybody thought. He went his own way, a complete original.
There are lots of stories about Richard, about his dessert gallery in West Tisbury back in the 70s, the life masks he made with Willa Shallit, his endless search for antique frames and furniture, about Chicamoo and, of course, the wonderful dinner and cocktail parties at the Gothard’s and at his and Claudia’s own home. He was a spellbinding storyteller, and he was always on. Impeccably, screamingly funny.
His art was original, just as his life was, and came from an imagination that was delightful, perverse, playful, sexy and serene, if something can be all those things at once. When Richard made a painting, it was in exquisite detail, every aspect of the work got his full attention.
Years ago, when I had a few dollars, I bought one of Richard’s paintings, all in blues, of an elephant balancing precariously on a ball. Of course, that doesn’t really describe the work, but how do you talk about the blue asparaguses, the falling cut-out silhouette men, the bare-breasted goddess riding on the elephant’s back – or the sexy leather boots on the elephant?
I hope someone has a retrospective of Richard’s art so that the breadth of his imagination can be fully on display.
The last time I saw Richard Lee was at the opening of the old Marine Hospital in Vineyard Haven several months ago. I was standing on the front steps waiting for a couple of friends to arrive when suddenly I became aware of Richard’s presence.
He was with Claudia, his lovely and talented wife, whose jewelry boutiques grace Edgartown and Vineyard Haven, and Bob Gothard, the world-class fashion photographer and one of his closest friends.
I hadn’t seen him, except in passing, since my ex-wife left me a year before, as I’d stepped back socially and hadn’t been around many people. Either Bob or Richard asked after her, and I was only able to say, awkwardly, that we’re not together any more. A moment later, as we hugged, Richard said, “Well, anyway, it is nice to see you,” putting an emphatic twist on the word, like italics would, to put me gently at ease. And it did.
Richard Lee was like that, loving, and very, very kind.
So if you have a favorite memory of Richard Lee, please feel free to share it in a comment. We need to remember the very special people in our lives.
One of the very best interview portraits of Richard was done by Heather Curtis in the MV Times back in 2007. Even if you know him well, it’s worth reading http://www.mvtimes.com/2007/08/02/art/richard-lee.php
Service @ 11 am Tuesday June 26 at WT cemetery followed by Pot Luck at Grange Hall. Please bring a dish to share (ONLY FINGER FOODS - room temperature - nothing that requires forks, spoons, knives, dishes, etc.) And CELEBRATE the incredible life and art of Richard Lee.