Slum Lad

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Hughie Lee-Smith

American, 1915 - 1999

Slum Lad, ca. 1960

  • Not On View

Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 26 × 32 in. (66 × 81.3 cm)
Framed: 34 1/2 × 40 1/4 in. (87.6 × 102.2 cm)

Courtesy of the Isabel Foundation, Inlander Collection, L2003.80

The desire to convey important social and political messages was the motivating force behind much of Hughie Lee-Smith's provocative art. To make his work accessible to a general audience, however, Lee-Smith adopted a largely realistic style. His figures are often depicted in isolation, neither seeing nor speaking to one another and stranded in locations that fail to communicate a "clear sense of place"—deserted beaches, empty parking lots, and vacant buildings—creating a sense of alienation and loneliness. The wall is a recurring motif in Lee-Smith's work, functioning as a symbol for a spiritual, physical, and psychological barrier, and alluding to the history of segregation in America. Yet, the wall also suggests the potential for progress and liberation.Born in Eustis, Florida, Hughie Lee-Smith spent most of his early childhood living with his grandmother in an African American community in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1925, Lee-Smith was sent to join his mother in Cleveland, Ohio. In his last year of high school, Lee-Smith won a Scholastic Magazine scholarship to the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts in Michigan. Returning to Cleveland, he enrolled at the Cleveland School of Art. Following his graduation in 1938, Lee-Smith moved to Detroit where he worked in an automotive factory. After serving in the Navy during World War II, he returned to Detroit and earned a degree in education at Wayne State University.

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