Culture / Art Republik

Francis Lee Recreates Life From Imagination and Memory Through Vibrant Watercolor Paintings

Revolutionary individuals are born everyday, though they may not realise their calling, until much later.

Oct 13, 2020 | By Julia Roxan

He’s an artist, creative director, and an entrepreneur who is filled with passion towards watercolor and mixed media, but this wasn’t always the case. Coming into the art scene at a later age, the esteemed Francis Lee was almost a doctor and had even delved deep into advertising before ever considering the path he’s on today. Painting based on pure imagination and memory, this artist is revered for his distinct ability to effortlessly recreate life on canvas.

Francis Lee Recreates Life From Imagination and Memory Through Vibrant Watercolor Paintings

You were born in Malaysia, you studied at the Limkokwing University of Creative Technology and graduated in 2000. Tell us about your first steps as an artist?

When I was young, I aspired to become a doctor. I made a different route instead, pursuing my second best interest which was in art. I majored in Graphic Design & Multimedia, which is the total opposite of what I am doing now. The thought of being an artist never crossed my mind until someone from Klang Artist Society approached me and my friend. We had our opportunity in the Society for 2 years. Afterwards, I focused more on advertising for almost two decades.

The idea of painting resurfaced last year after a friend of mine, pestered me to paint again. It was not an easy task, after all I have been on hiatus for so long. I needed to reconcile whatever I learnt in the past and put into action again.

Soon the Covid-19 pandemic came. There was nothing else to do except stay at home, and that was the moment I was on steroids. I paint every day, one painting a day sometimes up to three.

What brought you to watercolour? Any specific influence?

I suppose it started when I was introduced to watercolor in high school. I can’t recall anyone that influenced me. Probably it was my mom that indirectly influenced me. She has been very supportive of what I am doing. Art materials and reference books were expensive back then, even now, and she paid everything from her tailoring job.

Do you travel across Malaysia to observe sceneries – where does your inspiration come from?

I do travel around. I take random photos for reference. Then I piece everything together in my home studio. I prefer to work on things that I see or remember. I paint from memory most of the time. I have a photographic mind which I tend to subtract all the minute details to core shapes. Once in awhile when the subtraction is too overwhelming, I do abstract.

Do you pay a special attention to the landscapes around Klang where you were born and raised up?

Now you caught my attention. I think i’m going to cover that in future. I paint random subjects, so nothing specific. My usual go to muse is a flat ground with random trees. This is purely from imagination.

Any current or past watercolour artist who has influenced you?

I wouldn’t say influenced. I have my own style. There are few that I wished to meet and learn from such as Joseph Zbukvic, Alvaro Castagnet, Gerhard Richter, Yayoi Kusama and Nicholas Lopez. Those are my favourite top-guns of this century.

How do you view the current art scene in Malaysia ? How important is the space given to artists in modern Malaysian society?

Malaysia is an unique country with many cultures and traditions. Works produced by Malaysian artists are absolute with its own flavour. We need to do more to catch up with our neighbouring countries within our already vibrant and active scene. Malaysian artists are blessed. We are free to express anything as long as it’s within constitution.

The five words that best describe your art?

Intuitively represented, vibrant, subjunctively fathomable

In which city can we expect to see your next solo exhibition?

It’s going to be in Kuala Lumpur. I am working on modernisation in Kuala Lumpur as my body of work for now. It’s going to be 10-piece show.

Where can we see some of you work online, are these for sale?

Check out my Instagram. Most of the large pieces and selection of small pieces are for sale. Just enquire me then.

Your favourite museum in Malaysia?

You wouldn’t believe it. Our National Museum of Malaysia. Not because I want to get inspired. I love seeing weird artifacts and its history behind it. But given a choice I prefer the zoo instead. I just love animals.

If you were to name one mentor who has inspired you in your life and path as an artist, who would that be?

I think it will be Goh Ah Ang in the past. Now, I have to be blatantly honest with you – my inspiration comes from Youtube! It is so resourceful and I just can’t stop digging for more videos until I realized that instead on lying on the couch, I better get my hand dancing with the brush. I wasted 16 years of not doing what I love most!

You may contact Francis Lee via email at, or through his Facebook page known as Lineobsession by Francis Lee y.k. For more urgent enquiries, Francis is most accessible through Instagram.

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