In a quaint sunny studio situated on two acres of expansive high desert land southeast of Bend, an artist’s pastel walls are complimented with discerning evolution from work inspired by the West to the organic freedom of the abstract, all oil and acrylic, all created by artist Dee McBrien-Lee.
Though an East Coast native, the volume of her work is inspired by the West. Residing in California, Utah, Colorado and now Oregon, McBrien-Lee’s work is namely of colorful, vivid and vibrant horses, landscapes and figures rooted in the Americana tradition. But since her move to Bend with her husband Jay in 2007, her palette, and creative palate, have changed.
“While location can have some influence on my work, particularly when I was painting more western, what really inspires me can be a variety of influences,” says McBrien-Lee. “2016 was a very volatile year for many reasons, and I did a series of paintings that focused on women’s issues and modern day challenges.”
Hailing from Long Island, McBrien-Lee studied fine art at SUNY New Paltz, graduating with a major in psychology and minor in fine arts and women’s studies. Her work is at once a tribute to the West but also a rise to the transformable abstract.
“My goal for the future is to become more spontaneous, looser and more organic in my work…sometimes I find that my work feels very intense and I would like to add some lightness going forward.” And hence, perhaps, the creation of one of her latest abstract pieces, Silver Lining.
McBrien-Lee works from her home studio, Lonesome Dog Studio, named in memory of her recently passed 14-year-old rescue Border Collie dog named Lonesome No More. Currently she is kept company in her work with Bailey, a 14-year-old rescue Australian Shepard, who she kindly calls a “walking coffee table.”
In January 2010, McBrien-Lee became one of the founding partners of her home away from home, Red Chair Gallery, located in downtown Bend. That following summer the doors opened to the gallery that now houses and celebrates the work of nearlyThirty member artists including potters, painters, jewelers, fiber artists, mosaic and glass artists. Joined by her cohorts, artists Rita Dunlavy (mosaics and glass), Lise Hoffman-McCabe (pastels) and Linda Heisserman (porcelain ceramics), all of their work hangs amongst the burgeoning artists’ work of the Bend community.
“When we first started the gallery, there weren’t very many galleries in Bend,” says McBrien-Lee of one of Bend’s artistic pillars located in the historic O’Kane Building. “I do think the art community is growing but slow going—it’s difficult to start. Art is a luxury. Bend is slowly becoming more of an artist community, but slow growth is good growth.”
Red Chair Gallery is not only part of a number of artists’ receptions across downtown on First Fridays, but hosts student programs each spring for Bend, Summit and Mountain View high schools and donates ten percent of all proceeds during December to the Bethlehem Inn, a community-based facility providing shelter and hope to those in need.
Artistic influences that have inspired McBrien-Lee include post impressionist JMW Turner as well as Paul Klee, Gustav Klimt, Modigliani, Diebenkorn and Miro. But she does not limit her muse to only visual classic artists but gathers from audio inspiration also.
“I can be inspired by a song,” she writes. “I painted a picture that was inspired by a Grateful Dead song, China Cat Sunflower, a year or so ago. There is another Dead song that has been knocking around in my head and I am sure it will come out some day, Box of Rain.
During the summer of 2013, McBrien-Lee went back to the drawing board of sorts to expand from her work on Western scapes and horses that were long inspired by her time spent on her native Long Island working with friend’s Palominos on pack trips, and further with her move West. She sought out a mentor and workshops, and dove into an entirely new direction—a rabbit hole of inspiration where she began her Alice in Wonderland collection.
“I was told to pick a topic and take it and go crazy with it. I took workshops and suddenly had permission to do what I hadn’t been doing,” says McBrien-Lee. “I created my Alice in Wonderland series to take me out of my comfort zone. The workshops have helped me tremendously.”
The artist reread the books, studied the characters and created in oil and acrylic the Cheshire Cat, the Red Queen, and of course, Alice herself. “It was naturally a jumping off point for me to take me entirely away from what I was doing,” she says. “Paintings go through a lifecycle. It’s first in its infancy then you hit an adolescence stage and eventually you work into a final piece. Sometimes I have to turn the painting to the wall to find that final piece. My process includes lots of layering, playing with shapes and composition and adding textures. Sometimes I incorporate paper or fiber into a piece for added interest.”
McBrien-Lee’s main advice for other artists? Don’t be afraid to seek a mentor.
“Take some classes and have no fear. Just go and have fun and do it, and have someone help you. You can’t walk until you crawl,” she says. “Look at other people’s art. The thing that inspires me most is to look at other people’s work. No one paints like you and you’re going to get an idea studying other artwork. The more you observe someone’s work, the more you