Lee Gatch was born outside Baltimore, Maryland in 1902. He enrolled in the Maryland Institute of Art where he began his formal artistic training. While enrolled he had the opportunity to study under Leon Kroll and John Sloan. After graduation and armed with a traveling scholarship Gatch enrolled in the American School at Fontainebleau, France. However, he became dissatisfied with the classes there, and so in 1924 he moved to Paris, where he enrolled at the Académie Modern with Moise Kisling and André Lhote, a cubist academician. While in France, Gatch came in contact with the paintings of Andre Derain, Edouard Vuillard, and Pierre Bonnard. He greatly admired their application of color to create a sense of space. Gatch returned to the United States in 1925. He had his first one-man show in 1932 in New York. He spent the summer of 1935 in Yaddo, an artists' colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., with the Precisionist artist Elsie Driggs, whom he later married. The couple moved to Lambertville, N.J., where he lived the rest of his life on a secluded farm. The landscape of western New Jersey provided his source of subject matter during most of his career. Like his contemporaries such as Avery, Dove, and Knaths, Gatch attempted to create a personal individual style which was drawn on the American representational tradition but which transcended this tradition in order to find meaning through design and color.
Throughout the 1940s and 1950s Gatch's work was widely exhibited, including representation in the Venice Biennales of 1950 and 1956. His paintings were popular, and the artist received many awards from American museums. In 1965 he received a grant from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was inducted into the Academy the following year. He continued to work steadily until his death in 1968.
Lee Gatch once remarked:
"For me art should not be too cerebral. It is for rejoicing. As long as it bears the stamp of personality, that it communicates, and the over-all image is an aesthetic entity, I will have fulfilled the eternal plea, 'Art for Heaven's Sake.'"
In the 1960's when Lee Gatch created Archaic Tree he was living an essentially secluded existence in western New Jersey with his fellow artist and wife Elsie Driggs. At this time Gatch was experimenting with a variety of textures and mixed media in his work, including thick paint, collaged pieces of canvas and thin slabs of stone. His style here is both symbolic and extremely personal. In such a non-objective approach his application of color has become the dominating factor in the creation of the work. The term "Archaic Tree" may allude to the gallows or the cross on which Jesus was crucified. Or the term by extension may allude to the "Tree of Life" ,a common term used in Judaism; religions in general; Egyptian mythology; folklore; culture; philosophy; science and fiction - all often in contexts relating to immortality or fertility. The concept of a "Tree of Life" or a many-branched tree illustrates the idea that all life on earth is related, a metaphor for a common descent in the evolutionary sense. Whatever the potential connection or allusion Gatch has created a unique piece that was representative of his own interpretation of the American tradition of painting which found personal meaning through his individual design and color.
Staempfli Gallery, 47 East 77th Street, New York, NY (label verso)
World House Galleries, Herbert Mayer (label verso)
Dennis Osborne, Osborne Marquis Ltd., International Fine Art Consultants and Appraisers, 32 Lafayette, Greenwich, CT
World House Galleries, 987 Madison Avenue, New York, NY, May 17-June 18, 1960
Staempfli Gallery, January 22-February 16, 1974