Tom Lea was a realist who painted things as they are, but just happened to see more of what they are than most of us do. A muralist, painter, book illustrator, World War II artist-correspondent, historian, novelist, and humanist, Lea died in 2001 after creating in some sixty years a corpus of work that has captivated those who know it. This volume makes available the full range of his vigorous work. Old admirers of Lea’s talents will delight in this presentation, and a whole new generation will be awed by the unique contribution he has made.
A Southwesterner from multicultural El Paso, Lea gave new vision to the misunderstood lands often thought of as barren wastes. As Kathleen G. Hjerter says in her foreword, in his paintings “the desert’s melded colors are vibrant under many subtle gradations of light; the mesas and mountains reach up to a sky enormous enough to hold everyone’s soul.”
But it is not just the southwest. its life and lore that Lea knew. Any subject he portrayed in picture or words (he wrote several outstanding books, including The Wonderful Country) he first researched minutely. Thus, he brought marvelous detail to his portrayal of the Mexican bullfighter, the Australian ranches and Texas cattle of the King empire, and the Indians, pioneers, and ranch hands of his own corner of the world. In the Second World War, as an artist-correspondent for Life magazine, he captured both the weaponry and the emotions of war. On assignment in China he developed a love for that land that gave him not only many subjects for paintings but also his favorite and, in later years, most characteristic medium: Chinese ink applied with a fine brush.
In China, too, he came to know the ideogram whose symbols became for him, in William Weber Johnson’s words, a “sort of personal artistic trinity”: the earth, the sky, and man between-man linked very urgently and simply with cosmos, nature as the catalyst. These elements and this link— interpreted through a stunning talent by a very private, honest, and modest artist—inspired the art of the incomparable Tom Lea.
KATHLEEN G. HJERTER, a published art historian, is the former curator of the art collection of the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin.The late WILLIAM WEBER JOHNSON, a long time friend of Lea’s, was professor of journalism at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a bureau chief for Time-Life. He is the author of many articles and books, including Kelly Blue.BECKY DUVAL REESE is the director of the El Paso Museum of Art.
What Readers Are Saying:
“A beautiful oversized collection . . .” --Bryan-College Station Eagle
“The Art of Tom Lea: A Memorial Edition is a simply gorgeous coffee-table art book that showcases the black-and-white as well as the color illustrations of Tom Lea’s drawings and paintings. Images of the American West, World War II, and the enduring vibrancy of nature are palpable in these historic and captivating images. A brief but informative commentary enhances this collection of outstanding visual images, with most of the pages being devoted entirely to superbly presenting Tom Lea’s unforgettable work. The Art of Tom Lea is a welcome and enthusiastically recommended contribution to personal and academic American Art History collections.” --Bookwatch
“The Art of Tom Lea is a book which needs to be on the shelf of all those interested in Texas and the characters which has made Texas the place it is. Tom Lea was one of those characters.” --Mexia Daily News
“It is the strength of the images that makes this book one to savor.” --Texas Books in Review
“Is a beautiful oversized collection of his art . . .” --Reporter News
“The substance of the work is a marvel to behold.” --New York Resident
“This beautifully produced volume makes his remarkable body of work more accessible to current and future admirers.” --Southwest Book Views, New Books from the American Southwest
“This book goes a long way toward capturing the scope of [Lea’s] talent and displaying it in a manner that provides an excellent introduction and summary of his life’s work.” --Review of Texas Books
“People who assume they know Lea as a local artist who painted mostly western landscapes will be amazed at the range of his work and the many different styles he mastered . . .The book is a treasure of a man who gave us many gifts.” --El Paso Inside & Out Magazine