Love, marriage and art
See two exhibitions side-by-side by one artistic and engaging couple, now on display at the Mary Sue Rich Community Center at Reed Place.
William “Billy” Lee and Diana Lee grew up far apart but found each other somewhere between, in Miami, specifically. Though they have their differences, as all couples do, they share in common an insatiable curiosity, along with versatility and artistic talent.
The couple, recent Ocala transplants, are showing their works for the first time locally and for the first time in side-by-side exhibitions.
“Bold and Inspired: Native American Regalia,” by Diana and “Abstract Island Expressions,” by Billy, will be on display 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily at the Mary Sue Rich Community Center at Reed Place, 1821 NW 21st Ave, Ocala, through Jan. 4.
Both Diana and Lee had different vocations before doing art. They met in beauty school in 1974, got married soon after and relocated to the Bahamas together, where Billy operated the family business.
“We met when he painted my shoes,” Diana said with a laugh, “while I was wearing them, and then he painted my jeans. We just really hit it off.”
Billy’s grandfather emigrated from China to the Bahamas and started out in the laundry business, which later expanded into merchandising and souvenirs.
As an abstract expressionist, Billy revisits his childhood growing up in Nassau amid colorful, flamboyant tropical flowers and palm trees, a setting that influenced his imagery as well as the centuries old Junkanoo festival, which happens twice a year. The street parade gathers crowds with music, dance, and costumes. Billy gravitated to it artistically because he “really loves bright colors.”
Diana’s work has equal intensity but is more tempered in natural hues.
“She is a perfectionist, and paints from the photographs that she takes,” Billy said of his wife’s art “She used to trace the image, then evolved into using the transfer/resize via square technique. Both took her a long time to complete.”
Diana grew up in Kentucky and has a Ph.D. in neuropsychology and researched HIV patients in the psychiatry and behavioral sciences department at the University of Miami (UM). Since retiring from UM, she has focused on her art. Her colorful acrylic paintings are inspired by her Cherokee ancestry, photography and experiences visiting Native American sites in Kentucky as well as her participation in the Junkanoo parades.
These days, she prints her photographs’ outlines directly onto the canvas, then paints it using the colors of the photograph as a guide while adding other things like war paint, blowing ribbons, and additional war regalia to her formidable Native American subjects.
In his youth, Billy went to art school at the University of Colorado in Boulder but took a break because he couldn’t afford the rising tuition and headed to Miami to stay in a family residence, where he met Diana. She didn’t study art when she was younger but always created art.
Billy later earned an associate degree in fine arts and another in photography from Miami Dade College, where the couple relocated after living in the Bahamas for several years.
“He’s been all over the world, but I don’t like to fly much,” Diana shared. “I did go to New Zealand with him because he played rugby for around 40 years. We went to the Golden Oldies in Christchurch, New Zealand, and that place is just so beautiful.”
Throughout his life, Billy played rugby, football and tennis but has had to slow down recently due to health concerns, which have made him vulnerable to the coronavirus.
The couple is leading a mellower life as he recovers from open heart surgery in Gainesville.
So far, he has exhibited his artwork in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Budapest, and the Bahamas.
Why the move from Miami to East Ocala?
“The taxes on the house!” Billy spouted with a laugh. “We really love horses too, and we wanted a quieter life with fewer hurricanes!”