Hughie Lee-Smith
September 29–November 5, 2022
Opening reception: Thursday, September 29, 6–8pm

Karma, Los Angeles
7351 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90046

Karma LA is pleased to present a solo exhibition of paintings by Hughie Lee-Smith. The surreal compositions of Lee-Smith (b. 1915, Eustis, Florida; d. 1999, Albuquerque, New Mexico) reflect the social alienation of mid-twentieth century American life. Hughie Lee-Smith will run from September 29th to November 5th, 2022 at  7351 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, California. 

Hughie Lee-Smith’s body of work spans nearly seven decades. He came of age in the midst of the Great Depression, spending his early life primarily between Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit. The Midwest left an indelible influence on Lee-Smith, whose Social Realist paintings made reference to its expansive gray skies and industrial architecture. He was involved in several projects that were recipients of Works Progress Administration funding: Karamu House in Cleveland, the oldest running African American theater in the nation, and the Southside Community Art Center in Chicago, where he would cross paths with Charles White, Gordon Parks, and Margaret Taylor-Burroughs, among others. Eventually teaching would take him to the East Coast, where he was an instructor at the Art Students League of New York and later the head of the art department at Howard University in Washington, DC.

Imagery of the carnival fairground recurs throughout Lee-Smith’s work via the motifs of ribbons, pendants, and balloons. His paintings often reference the contrast between the carnival’s playful theatricality and its uncanny imitation of reality. He depicts abandoned, crumbling urban architecture as the sets for his existential tableaus. Even when his figures appear together, they always seem solitary. Over the course of his long career, Lee-Smith developed a distinct figurative vocabulary influenced by both Neoclassicism and Surrealism. Lee-Smith left behind an idiosyncratic body of work, the summation of a lifelong effort to see beyond the real. 

This historic exhibition coincides with the inauguration of Karma’s new location in Los Angeles. Hughie Lee-Smith will be accompanied by a fully-illustrated monograph including new texts by Steve Locke, Leslie King-Hammond, Hilton Als, and Lauren Haynes. Karma would like to thank the Estate of Hughie Lee-Smith for their guidance.