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Helen lee turned a career-ending affliction into a flourishing art practice


Performing all over the world as a celebrated pianist is not typically what leads people into a second career as a visual artist. Yet, at the age of 33, Helen Lee’s life was upended with the onset of crippling hand pain, which left her unable to play the piano.

She segued into teaching her beloved instrument at a leading music university in Singapore and picked up a paintbrush to put her minor in fine art to use. What developed was a deeper appreciation for art’s healing properties. Eventually, Lee opened her own art practice, called Helen’s Color, and began working as a full-time artist. She also ran a successful studio in Singapore and held many exhibitions in prestigious venues there and in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Melbourne, Australia; Bangkok, Thailand; and New York City. She is currently represented stateside by Kyo Gallery in Alexandria, Virginia, and locally by Bee Street Gallery.

Just last year, Lee moved to Dallas-Fort Worth to be closer to her daughter, a fine art graduate of the University of North Texas, where Lee also earned a master’s degree in piano performance decades earlier.

She set up her home base in North Dallas and turned a two-car garage in her home into a sunlight-filled studio that overlooks a wooded creek bed.

It’s there, in her “sanctuary” as she refers to it, that Lee creates large-scale works on canvas that are sometimes minimalist, sometimes impressionist. “If you look at my work side by side, sometimes you may not know it’s by the same person,” Lee says. “I paint what I feel and then go from there. I don’t have preset ideas in mind of where it will end. It’s a process that I find most gratifying. I do not wish to be in production of stale art. I am constantly evolving. I must flow.”

Lee’s acrylic works draw inspiration from nature, rendered with broad brushstrokes in vibrant blues, greens and sometimes red tones.

“I make the colors as aesthetically appealing as possible,” Lee says. “Colors express mood. Strokes are movement, like rhythm in music. It’s a dance with my paintbrush.”

Lee utilizes the close relationship between music and different art forms in her work.

“I often meditate before starting the painting. Movement like dance also helps me to focus on my creative channel. I keep journals close by to write short stories and poems,” she says. “This practice brings out my inner expressions. I feel free and this allows me to express the inner core onto the canvas more directly.”

Lee also plans to offer creative arts with residents of retirement centers and women’s shelters. “I find arts extremely helpful in healing. Therapists are now including expressive arts in their sessions. It’s amazing what we can discover about ourselves through arts,” Lee explains.

For those who want to learn the principles of studio art, Lee also teaches private art lessons and group sessions. “We’re creating, inside the disciplined box of how to make fine art, and at the same time allowing possibilities and individualities to become the fullest,” Lee says.

She teaches from her sanctuary in North Dallas and says she wants people to totally forget the outside world when they come to her studio.

“I want them to know they’re unique and they have the power to create,” Lee says. A couple of her recommendations: Breath and let the creative energy flow. Celebrate life.

Lee welcomes viewing of her works at her studio by appointment.

Alaena Hostetter is a Dallas-based journalist who writes about her favorite things: art, design, culture, music, entertainment and food.

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