Rosa Lee Hong Kong - British, 1957-2009

Hong Kong-born artist and feminist theorist Rosa Lee (1957–2009) was one of the most influential figures operating in the UK in the 1980s &90s. She created a new type of decorative abstraction within the UK that dismantled the hierarchy of fine art over craft. In doing so, she raised questions about the validity of the modernist conventions and reclaimed the position of women within the history of painting. Lee’s highly ornate, large-scale canvases  are heavily layered with skeins of paints in wave-like forms, creating optical illusions. Her sources were both Western, with Bridget Riley and the writings of Jacques Derrida being hugely influential, and Asian, with calligraphic abstraction underpinning her entire practice. 
Lee’s research can be considered a continuation in the UK of the American Pattern & Decoration movement, which sought to reaffirm forms of art associated with femininity - like patterning, beading, collage - demeaned by the Westernised, male-dominated society. As opposed to the shocking works of the YBAs - who emerged in the same years - Lee used painting to explore what is not directly visible, and pursued the creation of a new visual language described as an arabesque dance ‘with threads to mend and extend’. A formidable theorist and accomplished writer, throughout her career Lee questioned the meaning and function of painting, observing how the interpretation of a work of art is subjective thus not unequivocally definable. She also gave a huge contribution to the development of contemporary feminist theories. Her essay Resisting Amnesia: Feminism, Painting and Postmodernism (1987, Feminist Review) is considered one of the key texts re-situating feminism within art historical tradition and has been reproduced in major anthologies of feminist text.

Lee studied at the Brighton Polytechnic (1982–3), St Martin's School of Art (1983–6) and the Royal College of Art (1986–8). Just a year after graduation, she received the prestigious John Moore painting prize. During her life she exhibited extensively at important institutions, including the Whitechapel Gallery, London; the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool; and Kettle's Yard, Cambridge. Sadly, her death from cancer in 2009, aged only 52, cut short a burgeoning career. Her work is held in various public collections, including The New Hall Art Collection, University of Cambridge; Victoria Gallery and Museum, University of Liverpool; Maclaurin Art Gallery, Scotland; and the Contemporary Art Society, London, amongst others.