Editor's note: The Chinese American Museum of Los Angeles and the Automobile Club of Southern California provided source material to Resource Library for the following article or essay. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact the Chinese American Museum directly through either this phone number or web address:


Sunshine & Shadow: In Search of Jake Lee

December 1, 2007 to April 13, 2008


Jake Lee, a highly respected, yet quiet and enigmatic painter who influenced numerous other artists in California for decades, has not been the subject of a major retrospective, until now. "Sunshine & Shadow: In Search of Jake Lee" an exhibition hosted by the Chinese American Museum of Los Angeles, co-produced with the Automobile Club of Southern California, marks the first comprehensive and critical review of a prolific artist who embraced California landscapes and city scenes through watercolor.

Showcasing at the Chinese American Museum (CAM) from December 1, 2007 to April 13, 2008, "Sunshine & Shadow" will highlight more than 60 watercolors, including eight from the Auto Club's Westways cover art collection. The collection will also illustrate with photos and letters more details of the artist's professional career and his family life, which he kept distinctly separate for many years.

"Jake Lee is among the most well known and prolific watercolor artists of the 20th Century, yet we found very little published about his personal life as we researched this exhibition," said Dr. Pauline Wong, Executive Director of the museum. "We had no problem locating his art and his influence -- it lives in collections throughout the state and in the hearts of his many students. But it was more challenging to find the man. We believe this exhibition and catalogue will result in new appreciation for his artistic production and his influence."

Lee (1915-1991) worked steadily as a commercial artist and teacher. His first works fell squarely within the California watercolor tradition. Lee said he wanted to be known as a California artist -- not necessarily a Chinese American artist. In the 1960s he was asked to produce murals and paintings that reflected Chinese culture in California settings, such as San Francisco's Chinatown for the cover of WESTWAYS, and scenes from Chinese American history for Kan's Restaurant (San Francisco).

"Lee's depictions of Chinese American urban spaces, such as Chinatown balconies and storefronts, became a commercially sustainable side bar to his landscapes and rural scenes," noted Matthew Roth, Auto Club historian. "The Auto Club's member magazine, Westways, commissioned cover paintings from Lee nine times from 1954 to 1978, and these watercolors show in capsule his evolution into full engagement with Chinese aesthetic traditions."

Gordan McClelland, noted authority on California art and co-author of California Watercolors, 1850-1970 said: "Jake Lee was a talented watercolorist whose finest paintings combine an engaging blend of California Style watercolor painting with calligraphic brushwork reminiscent of his Chinese heritage. He was a key figure in a small group of California artists that carried on American Scene painting into the second half of the 20th Century and was highly regarded as a innovative and entertaining art instructor. This recognition is long overdue."

The Chinese American Museum is located at 425 North Los Angeles Street in El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, across from Union Station. For hours and admission fees please see the Museum's website.

The Chinese American Museum (CAM) is jointly developed and operated by the Friends of the Chinese American Museum (FCAM) and El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, a department of the City of Los Angeles. Located at 425 North Los Angeles Street within the El Pueblo Plaza in downtown Los Angeles, CAM is housed in the last surviving structure of the City's original Chinatown. CAM's mission is to foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of America's diverse heritage by researching, preserving, and sharing the history, rich cultural legacy, and continuing contributions of Chinese Americans.

The Automobile Club of Southern California, the largest member of the AAA federation of motor clubs, has been providing service since 1900. Today, the Auto Club's members benefit by roadside assistance, insurance products and services, travel agency, financial products, automotive pricing and buying programs, automotive testing and analysis, trip planning services and highway and transportation safety programs.


Text panel for the exhibition

Jake Lee (1915 -1991) was a major figure in 20th-century California art, whose legacy remains a subject of growing interest in the Chinese American community. Lee was a master watercolorist who produced an extensive body of work as both a fine artist and a commercial artist. He was also a beloved teacher whose students continue to be inspired by his instruction and his example.
Lee's first-ever solo museum exhibition brings together watercolor paintings, sketches, photographs and other personal ephemera representing the artist's life and work. Sunshine and Shadow features many artworks that have never been seen by the public, as well as stories gathered from art collectors and close friends of the artist himself. This in-depth look at Lee's oeuvre showcases the artist's signature use of color, his distinctive play of light against shadow, and his uncanny ability to find beauty in even the most mundane subjects. Among the urban and idyllic landscapes and seascapes comprising the exhibit are the covers Lee painted for the Automobile Club of Southern California's member magazine, Westways, from the 1950s to 1970s.
Lee's impressive work places him among the most important Asian American artists of his generation. Late in his career, Lee began to use his art to express some of the tension he felt as a person of two cultures, which is why Lee's work resonates with Chinese American audiences and continues to find new appreciation among viewers of all ages and backgrounds.
The exhibition Sunshine and Shadow: In Search of Jake Lee will be on display from Friday, November 30, 2007 through Sunday, April 13, 2008. A fully illustrated exhibition catalog is available at the Museum Gift Shop.
This exhibition and catalog were produced by the Chinese American Museum in cooperation with the Automobile Club of Southern California.

(above: Jake Lee (1915 -1991), Garage Sale. Photo courtesy Chinese American Museum)


(above: Jake Lee (1915 -1991), Olvera Street. Photo courtesy Chinese American Museum)


(above: Jake Lee (1915 -1991), Old Spanish Light. Photo courtesy Chinese American Museum)


RL readers may also enjoy:


Visit the Table of Contents for Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

© Copyright 2007 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.