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Ray Lee’s “Human Muse” at UNG Draws You In

Photo Credit: Barbette Houser

Brianna Little, a UNG student, checks out Lee’s “Gretchen I”

Ray Lee’s drawings beckon you to lean in, to leave your companions and your everyday thoughts behind, and to become intimate with a total stranger: the model. This is partially because his pencil portraits are small. You have to get close to really see. Once you are there, you find you are inhabiting the space with his subjects. What you find is a quiet, simple and deeply compelling world. You are drawn in, seduced by the sensual and thoughtful graphite lines that compose a shoulder, an arm, a lock of hair, an unforgettable gaze, a memorable gesture.

The party held to open Lee’s “The Human Muse: Drawing from the Model” at the University of North Georgia’s Oconee Campus this week was challenging. The crowd that came out to congratulate the artist, including fellow Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation life drawing class members, local artists, models, UNG students and co-workers, were friendly and the conversation was good. But turning to the works, you would be pulled into a separate and silent place. It was almost like constantly transitioning from the secular to the spiritual. 

It comes as no surprise to find out that Lee has a degree in religion. About his work, the artist says, “Part of this is about trying to capture a life, a moment in time and space.” With his sensitive hand, he also captures a spirit.


Photo Credit: Barbette Houser

Artist Ray Lee with one of his models, Gretchen Elsner.

“Gretchen I” features much of what makes these drawings so compelling. The model and the edges of the page seem to have a meaningful relationship; the background, gently worked in areas with hatching and left importantly empty in others, completes the subject; the line quality is varied and thoughtful, from the firm and turning pencil lines that define the model’s profile to the loose scratches at the top of her hair which energize the entire work. The silent, pensive quality of the image evokes the work of Andrew Wyeth.

“Gretchen”  also has a looseness and an almost-unfinished quality common to many of Lee’s drawings. UNG art professor Stacy Kaufmann says, “His work is a pure example of how the unfinished is finished.” The teacher plans to bring her life drawing students to the exhibit to point out how this enlivens his works. 

In his artist’s talk at the opening, Lee emphasized that “I’m not trying to finish something. I’m trying to capture something.” 


Photo Credit: Barbette Houser

Guests viewing works by Ray Lee at UNG.

It is interesting that Lee works exclusively in a 2B pencil, deeming the wide range of lead tones used by many artists as unnecessary ( a fact pointed out by friend and artist Bob Clements at the conclusion of Lee’s talk).

The drawings are included in a collection of Lee’s works entitled “Portraits: An Exploration inDrawing” recently published by Buena Vista Press. Publisher Lauren Fancher noted that the format and size of the book echoes that of many of the actual drawings. 

Victoria Cooke, the new director of the UNG Galleries, is pleased with this first exhibit at the Oconee Campus Gallery under her tenure. “It’s great to see an artist really go in deep,” she said. “The work reminds me in some ways of studies Degas did. Draftsmanship is the basis of good painting, drawing, of all of the arts, really.”


Photo Credit: Barbette

The reception at UNG for Ray Lee’s solo show of drawings.

Ray Lee’s exhibit, “The Human Muse: Drawing from the Model”, will be on view at The University of North Georgia’s Oconee Campus Gallery through November 3, 2016. For more information, go to Ray Lee’s “Portraits” is available at