Have you ever heard of Annie F. Lee? If so, great! You’re a step ahead of the game. If you haven’t, no worries, this blog and website are just for you. This is your opportunity to experience the genius of a modern master of fine art.
However, before we dive into that, let’s get started with some basics. First, let’s introduce you to the person responsible for the continuation of Lee’s hard work, her grandson, Abe Ilo. Abe is the Founder of AFL35 (The Annie F. Lee Art Foundation 501C3) and CEO of Annie Lee Presents, LLC.
To build on his grandmother’s legacy, Abe trademarked The Black Arts Master’s Review, or B•A•M, providing a forum for Annie’s colleagues to honor her by creating ‘An Ode’ to her artwork. Being that Annie’s art is revered as authentic Black Americana, she was the perfect case study for the original B•A•M review. LaShun Beal, Paul Goodnight, Karen Y. Buster, Burl Washington, and Melvin King contributed works that made B•A•M 2017 a great success. Other keynote artist that have accepted invitations to partake in future B•A•M venues include Tim Hinton, Gilbert Young, Frank Frazier, Kevin ‘WAK’ Williams, Charles Bibbs, Larry ‘Poncho’ Brown, and Kenneth Gatewood.
Adding Curator and Director to his titles, in 2017, Abe journeyed from Dallas to Annie’s hometown [Chicago] to roll out the first Black Americana Art Exhibition featuring B•A•M. The exhibit debuted at the South Shore Cultural Center (SSCC) for the month of February, with additional works from the AFL35 Original Owner’s Group (‘Blue Monday’ by Annie Lee, Owner Luthetis Carey • ‘Oval Office’ by Annie Lee, Owner Simone Woods • ‘TKO’ and ‘Knock Out’ by Annie Lee, Owner Antonio Lee • ‘Careers’ by Annie Lee, Owner Howard Godfrey III • ‘First Supper’ and ‘Girlfriend’s Ballet’ by Annie Lee, Owner Abe Ilo) and the SSCC in-house art group, the Creative Artist Association (CAA).
Trailblazer: a person who makes, does, or discovers something new and makes it acceptable or popular.
One might presume that trailblazers are beloved, but rarely do they get the appreciation they deserve within their lifetime. Let’s take Vincent Van Gogh for an example. Currently, he is respected as the master of Post-Impressionism. His artwork is priceless. However, when he was alive, he was poor, unable to sell his work, and relied on family for room and board. In the end, his lack of success drove him to suicide.
In the case of Annie Lee, her work was not only highly favored and purchased during her lifetime, she was an international sensation. Black people identified with the subject matter, details, and titles of her artwork, and she became a household name in Black communities across the United States. Unlike many other Black artist, Annie didn’t shy away from stereotypical elements of black culture. She touched on topics that the mainstream wanted to suppress. She told it how it was, and used faceless characters and humor to get her point across. It was brilliant. Annie was the renaissance woman with no inhibitions. She blazed the trail that redefined the Black art market and the Black Americana genre. Annie wasn’t afraid to paint what was on her mind and stay to true to her people. She made her original paintings affordable so that her people could afford to purchase her art, because fame and fortune wasn’t her driving force.
Her dignity and Black pride meant much more to her than any amount of money, and Black people felt her. She painted things relevant to her life experiences, and it connected with Black folks because she didn’t seek to over exaggerate or exploit the truth; nor did she sugar coat the reality. Obviously, Black people longed to see themselves represented with empathy because her reputation spread like wildfire. Annie Lee’s work was totally different from the fraudulent, white-washed, racist propaganda that was initially called black americana. She became Black peoples unofficial ambassador to the rest of the world. The universal truth and story telling appeal of her images made it impossible for it not to cross over; and with little to no effort, Annie work began to appear in mainstream television and movies. Like artifacts from a foreign country, Annie’s work is undeniable because it tells the story of a people – Black Americana.