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Chen Lee

Chen Lee

He / Him / His
Philadelphia, United States


Chen Lok Lee (May 18, 1927 – December 13, 2020) was a devoted educator and prominent printmaker and painter based in Philadelphia, PA. For over twenty years, he was a Professor of Printmaking, Silkscreen and Lithography at Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, the first and only visual arts college for women in the United States.

Blending styles of Chinese and western art, Lee’s background as a political refugee from China influenced much of his artistic creations and philosophies. In a daring escape in 1950, Lee fled China by swimming to Hong Kong and was eventually rescued, where he began the process of starting over and recreating himself by furthering his studies and artistic pursuits. Eventually, he entered the United States as a political refugee in 1959, settling in New York City’s Chinatown, working his way through the Chinese restaurant business to support himself. While at the Arts Students League in New York, he worked with George Grosz, Stephen Greene and Robert Hale, along with New York painter Hans Hoffman, having been inspired by the abstract expressionist movement of the times. Lee's further pursuits and accomplishments included earning an MFA from Tyler School of Art and the Rome Academy in Italy, trainin as a printmaker, painter and lithography under Romas Viesulas and Richard Callner. In 1973, he earned a Ford Foundation fellowship at the Tamarind Institute, launching his career as a master printmaker. Lee made lithographs, watercolors, and paintings that combine Chinese and Western styles. For example, in the 1980s he made lithographs that combine traditional Chinese ink techniques with a French Romantic palette and Italian compositional formalism. These unexpected and enigmatic works harness a fierce and spontaneous energy.

After Lee's passing in 2020 due to COVID-19, Lee's daughter launched the Chen Lok Lee Legacy Project to archive and share his works on paper and his life story to inspire the next generation of artists.

Artist Statement

When I first came to America, I brought images in my head with me. I developed skills in a western art form — printmaking. My ideas (images from the East) manifest in a western art form which I feel helps to create an international bridge between the two cultures. Today, I once again work in Chinese painting and calligraphy as well as printmaking. Chinese see my work as western; westerners see my work as Chinese. As for me, I wish to use an international language.” – Chen Lok Lee

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