Getting serious with Sir Tom Foolery, a.k.a. Tommy Lee
By KIM HENRY
People are drawn towards art because something about a piece resonates. A particular style strikes a personal chord or the use of color captures our imagination. Themes trigger an emotional response or the textures reach out and demand our attention. All this and more is experienced when viewing the dynamic work of local artist, Tommy Lee McGee the Third. Trail blazing his artistic path from Miami, through Boone NC, to the sandy shores of Wilmington, Lee, AKA Sir Tom Foolery, is a free-stylin’ graphic designer/painter with an infectious zest for life.
Born and raised in the sunshine state, Lee was the second in line of five children. He attributes his large family as the reason why collaborating with other artists comes so naturally to him and feeds his creative flow. “I grew up with sharing as a way of life. As an artist you can get into a comfort zone. Working with the ideas that another artist brings to the table, can take you past where your own had come to a stop,” explains Lee with his enigmatic smile.
Before us hangs a particularly striking painting. The realistic detail of the elder Ethiopian woman’s face was painted by Jacob Daniels and is a stark contrast to the vibrant, colorful headscarf that seems to literally dance around her etched face and is indicative of Lee’s style. It is a perfect example of two artists sharing the same canvas and the effect is stunning. The painting is a part of a collection the artists did in support of a non-profit called, Wine To Water, who drill fresh water wells for those in need worldwide.
This strong sense of community and social justice is further evident by Lee’s involvement with other non-profits and the Arts festival scene. One of his major loves is the LEAF festival, based just outside of Ashville, NC. LEAF is a huge advocate for bringing the arts to underserved communities, both in NC and beyond. This year LEAF commissioned Sir Tom Foolery Art and Design to do the graphic design for the festival.
The connection began back in 2015 when one of Lee’s musical hero’s, Talib Kweli, was the headlining act. Lee dreamt of showing his idol a piece of artwork that had been inspired by the musician. “The next thing I know, I’m standing on the main stage giving him my art. It really was a dream come true, and I am a strong believer in listening to your dreams!” Lee recounts just one of his many uplifting stories – like the time when he watched Bernie Sanders view his 8 foot “Bern the Trump Card” painting after being invited to partake in an exhibit in New York City, along with other artists from across America – but that’s another story.
Inspired by the power of art to trigger positive conversations about race, culture and current events, Lee’s work is both playful and provocative. His series entitled, ‘Kill ‘em With Kindness’ and ‘The Real Charlie Brown’ juxtapose iconic comic book characters with images of power and dominance. Ever prolific, Lee is currently working on multiple murals and expanding his most current acrylic-on-wood series entitled ‘Spirit Animal’, which began following a trip to Burning Man.
“Working on wood is about creating more of a dimension and bringing in my carving tools. My brush work is heavy, layer upon layer, so I like having even more texture,” says Lee standing in front of two huge captivating pieces from the series.
Lee’s work is always a representation of what he’s presently exploring in his life. It is this raw authenticity, combined with the boldness of his personality that makes this art so compelling. “As an artist, you’re displaying pieces of who you are, what’s going on in your mind, in your spirit. If you’re trying to create from an honest place, the work will always be evolving, especially if you want to have fun and not keep it rigid,” says Lee. His sincerity is refreshing.
Having moved from Atlanta to Boone where he lived for eight years, Lee found himself heading down to the Wilmington shoreline just last year, literally following his heart and fiancé, local dance studio owner Marie Stone. Arriving in Wilmington, Lee hit the ground running which seems to be his natural innovative pace. He is already curating a gallery space within Joshua McClure’s Canvas Giclee Printing company on Carolina Beach and completing his first mural for a local Pleasure Island business.
“I’m really excited to be a part of Wilmington’s artist community,” beams Lee, “At the gallery, we’re going to be highlighting other local artists and want to extend the Downtown arts scene out to the Island. I know Wilmington will help me grow as an artist, and as a person, and I’m ready!”