OBSESSIONS / Bargain bohemian: Lennie Lee creates portraits out of rubbish and sells them for a song. Robin Dutt meets the new mad boy of art

What does an Oxford Classics scholar with a promising career finally decide to do with his life? To become an artist may be way down on the lifestyle shopping list. But Lennie Lee outraged family and friends, alienated the establishment and set up on his own.

Lee, 36, has been creating art havoc for more than 10 years in the form of exhibitions, recitals, installations, poetry readings and performances. At one 'reading', the poem, which was a 15-second babyspeak lament ending in the smashing of a beer glass, won tentative applause. A few left. At another performance called 'My Sad Story', Lee systematically lit and then blew out candles - which burnt him - and shattered old windows with a velvet- covered brick. He almost needed stitches for the resulting wound to his neck.

But Lee is not mad - more tactically insane. He realises what many artists are too frightened to admit - that artists should have fun. Duchamp, Dali, Picasso, Cocteau and Warhol would, one suspects, have understood his stance. The artist, according to Lee, is the last bastion of all that is possible - making dreams come true on canvases or plinths.

But his methods are unconventional. He scours the streets looking for urban detritus to use in his 'Rubbish Portraits' which are thickly outlined drawings of friends in resin, filled with tat and tinsel. Like a magpie, Lee rushes after anything shiny, seizing on sweet wrappers and buttons as if they were rare jewels.

Trawling Bond Street after closing time he finds a Tiffany box here, a Chanel bag there. They all end up in the art soup. And art is very much like cooking - which he does adequately well for cohorts of hungry artist collaborators, relying on that artist's staple, couscous. He saves popcorn, dried anchovies and cigarette butts for his framed sculpture in the shape of teardrops, lips, hearts and icecream cones.

His approach to art galleries is similarly unconventional. Not for him the rarified environs of St James's. Instead he has converted part of his four- storey Dalston pile, already brimming with a bizarre selection of art, into a gallery called, 'Rich and Famous'.

'We're attracting loads of people to the house,' he enthuses, 'and we're selling too. I've made 200 or so paintings so far and sold to people on the dole, those in low-paid jobs and people off the street. Young people also show with us and my selection is arbitrary. Ideally, I'd like to open a gallery in Cork Street selling works at pounds 9.99 each.'

Dalston is not Cork Street but he's got the price right. Influenced by the supermarket age, Lee is creating a conveyor-belt line of what he is calling 'Factory Paintings' and is already turning out 2 ft 6 in by 2 ft gems for the price of a tenner - with a penny change.

'They're beautiful - truly democratic art and at a price almost everyone can afford. People have responded well to the work. Some take me five minutes, some three hours. My only concern is to cover the cost of the paint and board.'

This 'diffusion line' of real paintings, much cheaper than any print of art poster, is supplemented by Lee's other work which can sell for several hundred pounds per piece internationally, but sadly not that often. He now spends half the year in Berlin bringing a peculiarly British eccentricity to the city. When the Wall came down, he created a freedom face from the rubble.

People are taking Lee seriously. He has shown at the Barbican Centre, The Third Eye Centre, Glasgow, several galleries in London, Milan and Berlin and at an impromptu art show in the home of celebrated artist A R Penck.

'I'm probably mad,' he asserts with a knowing smile, 'but at least I haven't learnt not to put my hand in the fire yet. I'm beautiful and perfectly formed in every way for my task, which is the running of a production-line.'

'Rich and Famous', 91 Sandringham Rd, Dalston, London E8 (information: 071-609 7772). Open Fri, Sat 11am-5pm or by appointment

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power