Irene Lees British, b. 1943

At 60 Irene Lees embarked upon a BA in Drawing and Applied Arts at the University of the West of England and now, in her 70s, her work has regularly featured in the Jerwood Drawing Prize and the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. In 2012 she became is a member of the Society of Women Artists and in 2016 she won the SWA Fine Art Award. Her work is internationally exhibited as well as being held in many private, corporate and Royal collections. She currently lives and works in Cornwall.


Irene Lees work is meticulous in skill, research and application. Her drawings are, in her own words, ‘artwork essays’. She writes stories of her chosen subjects into her representational drawings. Her considerable mastery with a pen achieves an almost digital like rendering. Yet, get close to a work by Lees and you will see that each line is hand drawn in rhythmic loops or layers of text. Contained in these tightly conceived and intricately constructed works, is a strongly felt human emotion and spirit that filters through.


Her series, “The History of body packaging” made in 2011 looks at the common myths and misunderstanding behind burkas and bikinis, taking inspiration from texts on the history of underwear and questions why constricting and quasi-barbaric items, such as chastity belts and basques, appear erotic to today’s liberated woman. 


Other key work includes the  “It’s only words; Turner Prize 1984-2010” series.  Here Lees created a study of the lives of artists winning the Turner Prize. Grayson Perry inspired the urn and much of the content, while Chris Ofili and Tracey Emin are amongst artists featured in the work.


Irene Lees’ latest series of drawings, entitled “A Drawing is Worth a Thousand Words”, illustrate the enduring strength of the mothers of the 219 girls captured by Boko Haram in 2014. Their pictorial beauty and sartorially elegant brightness presents a contrast to the strongly felt human emotions they contain.


Read a summary of her Boko Haram writings here