Cultural Trust Blog: John Lee Profile

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Imaginary people dominate the paintings of John Lee, he calls them ‘Clohn People’ based off his brand Clohn Art. Wide eyes peer out of colorful faces in surreal scenes, and there is a chance you might find them looking up at you from a Pittsburgh street, when you least expect it.

Lee’s work is a colorfully bizarre wonderland full of strange figures and creatures. He works primarily with acrylic on cardboard and utilizes a good deal of mixed media and impasto with his thickly applied paint and burnt matchsticks composing one figure in a painting. He says that he started painting on cardboard because it was a low cost medium, “I found that if I could work on reclaimed things, then I had a lot more freedom than if I was working with oil and canvas.” The board that he works on provides a unique texture to underlie the thickly applied paint that form the ‘Clohn People’ which encompass one eyed women with purple hair, men with three or four eyes and a cat dressed as a human riding a unicycle. The illogical elements of the work invite comparisons to surrealism, while the disjointed figures echo some elements of the cubist styling’s of Picasso. Lee says that he cannot name any overt influences on his work, other than Van Gogh, but that artistic influences have seeped into his unconscious creative mind from pop culture and media.

Lee spent eight years living in China before he moved to Pittsburgh, and he says that his small studio became filled with paintings so eventually he started leaving them on the street for people to take. He says, “I have probably left at least 400 paintings in different parts of the world.” Each painting is marked with his ‘Clohn Art’ stamp, so people can contact him if they like what they have found.

“I always wanted to be a street artist,” Lee says. “But I feel bad about spray painting a house and breaking the law. This is pretty harmless. It’s street art for chickens.”

The practice of giving away these paintings hasn’t hurt Lee’s inventory of art, because he is so prolific. “If writers write, then painters paint and I try to paint every day, whether I like it or not.”

Although he has no qualms about giving his art away for free, Lee says that he does hope to make a living off of his work. It was in China that he decided to become more serious about his art, and it is in Pittsburgh that Lee made the decision to quit his job and forge a career out of his ‘Clohn Art.’ Having applied for the emerging artist scholarship in previous years, Lee was ecstatic to be accepted as one of this year’s emerging artists for this year’s Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival.

Check out the Clohn Art booth and the work of John Lee at this year’s festival from Friday, June 7th to Tuesday, June 11th at Booth 76.

For more please visit John Lee’s ‘Clohn Art’ facebook page at or his instagram at

Originally posted May 16, 2013 by Emily O’Donnell at

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