Biography: Hughie Lee-Smith was an American artist whose signature works often feature isolated figures in desolate urban settings. He remained committed to realism at the time that Abstract Expressionism was ascendant. His influences included American painters Albert Pinkham Ryder and Edward Hopper and Italian surrealist painter Giorgio de Chirico.
Lee-Smith, who hyphenated his name to stand out from other artists named Smith, knew from an early age that he would be artist. He served as the president of his high school art club and received a scholarship to study at the Cleveland School of Art. In 1938, Lee-Smith graduated from the Cleveland School of Art with honors. He also attended and eventually taught at Karamu House in Cleveland, joining Charles Sallée, Elmer Brown, and William E. Smith. To support himself and his wife and daughter, Lee-Smith worked in Detroit automobile factories in 1940s, an experience that encouraged him to get engaged with the labor movement.
After serving in the United States Navy during World War II, Lee-Smith used funds from the G.I. Bill to earn a bachelor’s degree in art education from Wayne State University in Detroit. In 1949, he exhibited paintings at the Detroit Arts Market and the Karamu House Art Gallery, Cleveland. Shortly after his graduation from Wayne State in 1953, Lee-Smith's career took off. He exhibited and taught widely for the next four decades.
In 1967, Lee-Smith was elected to full membership in the National Academy of Design, becoming the first African American since Henry Ossawa Tanner to be so honored. His paintings are in major museum collections throughout the United States.