Hofstra fine art professor is more than just a name on a plaque

Jim Lee named the 2018-2019 Fine Art Professor of the Year for his work with students, in and out of the classroom

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Hofstra Professor Jim Lee was recently named the 2018-2019 Fine Art Professor of the Year, and some of his students shared their favorite memories with him.
DaisyMae VanValkenburgh

Jim Lee is an artist – a painter to be exact, as he feels that he’d rather reserve the title of “artist” to the Leonardo DaVinci’s of the world. A native of Berrien Springs, Mich., where there are more cows than people, Lee knew that once he graduated high school, he needed to set out for New York. “I love my hometown,” he said, “but I just didn’t want to be sitting there wondering what could have been.”

His Brooklyn art studio is filled with canvases on the wall, paint on the floor, lo-fi rock 'n' roll in the background and incomplete pieces sprawled about the room. It is the perfect environment for him to create, the artist said.

“I keep a terrible studio…crap is everywhere. I have about 24 things that I am working on all at once,” Lee said. “Everything is in flux…things tend to be fluid in my studio…it is best when I don’t realize that I am making anything. The stereo is on…the TV is on…The lights are bright, and it smells of oil and spray enamels.”

Known for his beat-up baseball cap he wears every day, his simple “artist” outfits and go-with-the-flow attitude, this professor has left an impact on most every student he has worked with.

PROFESSOR OF THE YEAR

Hofstra Professor Jim Lee was recently named Hofstra’s Fine Art Professor of the Year. On Wednesday, April 24, the fine art department held a reception for him, celebrating all the hard work he has put into the program. Faculty, administration and students gathered in Calkins Hall to eat, mingle and discuss Lee’s outfit for Hofstra’s Annual Gala on May 2.

“I don’t own a suit,” Lee said. “The last time I owned a suit was for my wedding…even when I interviewed for Hofstra, I bought a jacket, but it was over the webcam, so I wore jeans.”

Invoking a hall filled with laughs, Lee’s joy of the afternoon was obvious on his face. As someone who does not like his photo taken, he was, however, proud to show off his special hat for his reception.

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“When the dean called to tell me about Professor of the Year, I assumed he was calling to tell me to clean out my office,” Lee said. “This whole thing has been a very humbling experience. I always believe that there is someone more deserving with whatever fortune comes my way, but I was very excited.”

There will be no need for Lee to be cleaning out his cluttered office any time soon because he is leaving his impact on students from the moment they enter Hofstra’s walls.

“Before coming to Hofstra, I never really thought about being involved with art classes, so I’ve been taking ceramics classes non-stop, and this department completely changed my life,” said Adriana Medina, a junior forensics science major. “Professor Lee has changed everything. My whole entire view of art, my whole entire perspective, it’s different and I’m excited to grow as an artist just by talking to him.”

“I feel like my work has changed a lot since coming to Hofstra and having courses with Professor Lee,” said Dana Kamieniecki, a senior fine arts and psychology major. “I’ve definitely grown a lot as an artist. Professor Lee has encouraged and challenged me to work bigger and be more free with my work instead of planning everything, and I honestly think my work has taken a great turn because of him.”

Lee has a way of connecting with his students and making the time to truly see them improve rather than moving from student to student. He will stay late, come early, do whatever he has to in order to see his students achieve.

“He taught me to just rethink everything I know about art and he’s showed me so many skills,” said Jacob Ferrandi, a junior industrial design major. “I’m just really grateful for him and to have him as a professor for the last three years.”

Lee does not just help inside the walls of Calkins Hall, but is someone who is willing to go out of his way to help students appreciate art.

“My favorite memory with Lee is when he took time out of his schedule to meet me and my friends at a museum and he walked us around and just talked to us and gave a real good lesson about all the artwork that was there,” said Joe Colangelo, a senior fine arts major.

He does not just teach students to create art, but focuses more on the process of it, making sure that his students know more than just paintbrushes and gesso.

“Currently him and I are working on a collaboration project,” said Amanda Lastella, a junior fine arts painting and psychology major. “At first it completely spiraled out of control, as most things do when we’re working on projects to begin with. That’s what makes him so different. That’s what makes you develop ideas and reach your goal in a way that you never thought you would before.”

“We wound up coming up with a project that I don’t think we would have otherwise if we hadn’t gone through that whole process,” Lastella said.

And just like any good professor, Lee did it for a reason.

“Process is everything,” Lee said. “I always tell my students, I don’t care what you paint, I only care how you paint.”

C L E A R S K Y

On April 28, Lee opened a gallery in Brooklyn with his friend/fellow artist Tommy White. The gallery called C L E A R S K Y is less of an actual gallery and more of an announcement box screwed into the side of a building.

“We are going really big time with the artist that we are exhibiting,” Lee said. “The first show is ‘Green Go Home,’ an ongoing collaborative project between internationally recognized artists Rirkrit Tiravanija and Tomas Vu.”

Part myth and part folklore, “Green Go Home” is both a misunderstanding and an invention. According to Tiravanija and Vu, the exhibition is “meant to be a wall of resisters, and of resistance.”

Lee and White are taking big strides with this exhibit creating a space that still feels like a gallery, street art and a call-to-action.

“Green Go Home” is on display until June 6 before Lee and White’s next installation is going to try to top this one.

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When asked his greatest accomplishment, he said, “I wish the list was too long…but being a father is perhaps my greatest, along with Professor of the Year, which is a pretty big deal. In the art world, though, I’m still waiting for the interview in BOMB magazine.”

As someone who claims he cannot do much else than make art and work with his hands, he has left a huge impact with many of his students and fellow colleagues. “I’m just not cut out for jobs that are dictated to me by others. I am the toughest boss that I have ever had, and I like to keep it that way.”