Lee Lanier: “Do not rely too heavily on other people’s lists; You and your life are unique”

Sometimes you have to waste time. Do not feel too guilty for goofing-off here and there. Your brain needs some downtime to decompress and ponder new avenues. I used to be so wound up that I would constantly look for tasks to do. It took a while, but I’ve learned how to periodically waste some […]

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Sometimes you have to waste time. Do not feel too guilty for goofing-off here and there. Your brain needs some downtime to decompress and ponder new avenues. I used to be so wound up that I would constantly look for tasks to do. It took a while, but I’ve learned how to periodically waste some time.

As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lee Lanier, a contemporary figurative painter who lives in Boulder City, Nevada and paints in Las Vegas, Nevada. His colorful paintings breathe new life into historical, literary, and mythological characters. Lanier’s painting have joined 50 group shows at 25 galleries in 6 states. He has held a residency at the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, Virginia. In Boulder City and Las Vegas, he has painted a series of public murals.

Lanier dabbled in fine art his entire life but has only turned to painting in a serious manner within the last five years. He has worked professionally as an animator for over 25 years, spending time at Walt Disney Studios and DreamWorks. He directed and animated a series of Avant-Garde short films that have screened at 200 film festivals, museums, and galleries worldwide. An enthusiastic supporter of community arts, he managed a branch of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School and co-founded the Dam Short Film Festival, an internationally recognized event.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in Dayton, Ohio. I was the kid that did not want to play outside — I preferred working on creative pursuits in my room. At age 11, my family moved to Decatur, Alabama. I returned to Dayton to attend the film program at Wright State University. After graduation, I immediately moved to Los Angeles and began my career in film and eventually animation.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

My career has certainly taken a few twists and turns. I went from film production to computer animation, to teaching, to writing, to recording video tutorials, to painting. That said, my career has always followed a creative path. I must I bore easily because I am constantly trying to master new things.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

One of my favorite aspects of being a painter is interacting with children. They are extremely observant — much more so than their parents. They will catch small details in my work and ask me to explain. They often notice deeper themes and can reiterate them in a wonderfully succinct fashion.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Not exactly ha-ha funny, but I will go back to my early days in film production for this one. I landed a production assistant position for the Midwest on-location shoot of the feature film Rain Man. Assigned to the Assistant Director department, I shared responsibility for controlling the set and keeping it quiet when the film was rolling. One day, I stopped a production vehicle approaching the set. I told the occupants to cut the engine and that we were about to roll. The response was “They can’t shoot without me, I’m the director!” Not sure if he was more mad at me or the rest of the crew. It was mortifying at the time, but ultimately it was a small, silly mistake. Nevertheless, I still managed to make a career out of Hollywood.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I am working on my largest painting to date. It’s 12×6 feet and features 9 models and a huge number of symbolic objects and text. I can be impatient with creative endeavors, so it is always a challenge to slow down. The painting will take me a full year to complete.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. There are definitely worse things than failure. I believe that some of the biggest regrets that people harbor are associated with not trying. There are a few golden opportunities I missed because I just could not figure out how to follow through without taking a significant risk.
  2. Time forgets. You can suffer just about any embarrassment or disaster and survive long enough for it to be forgotten by you or at least other people.
  3. Time does speed up as you get older. I have noticed this the last few years at the end of each night. I would ask myself ”What just happened to the day?” The antidote appears to be, at least in part, learning, exploring, and embracing what you have not already experienced; that, and paying attention to things around you that you stopped seeing even though they are constantly there.
  4. Sometimes you have to waste time. Do not feel too guilty for goofing-off here and there. Your brain needs some downtime to decompress and ponder new avenues. I used to be so wound up that I would constantly look for tasks to do. It took a while, but I’ve learned how to periodically waste some time.
  5. Do not rely too heavily on other people’s lists! You and your life are unique.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Diversify. Nobody can do the same task endlessly. Find other pursuits that balance your career. For example, painting offsets all the time I spend staring at a computer for my animation work. Animation is a great offset for my painting. I also work on old cars, which is very different than both painting and animation. Then there’s nature, which is a good antidote to the rest of modern life; there, I prefer hiking and snowboarding.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would like to see beauty embraced once again. Not the shallow beauty of fashion magazines, red carpet reviews, and TV commercials, but the beauty inherent in the natural world and the beauty displayed by individuals that are strong in character and action. Our modern culture has embraced so much that is ugly, yet most of us can intuitively recognize what is beautiful.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My wife Anita, who has supported all my creative tinkerings. She may not understand all my choices or like everything that I produce, but she is always rooting for my success and is there to console my failures.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I’m not one to memorize quotes or keep them as souvenirs. That said, I have started to write and add poetic bits to my paintings. The writings represent the personal beliefs I have attained along my journeys. I will share one here:

“We often look around us, confused by the inexplicable nature of life, cruelly beautiful. But look more closely, listen more carefully, and within the din of atoms grinding, you will find the godhead, the logos, the divine spark. It is everywhere. It is you. It is.”

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

In terms of fellows artists, I have always been impressed with the beautiful subjects and technical skills of El Mac. I also tip my hat to Robert Williams for bringing low brow art and Pop Surrealism into the artistic forefront.

How can our readers follow you online?



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