Rochester artist Lee Hoag returns to his roots in solo exhibition

AUBURN, NY (Nov. 28, 2023) – Perhaps it was natural for William “Lee” Hoag to become an artist. His mother’s sister was a painter and art teacher whose landscapes he admired. His older sister worked for Smithsonian Institution’s Traveling and Exhibition Service and often sent Hoag artists’ biographies.

Or maybe it was when a friend placed a Salvador Dali book in Hoag’s teenaged hands when the two were experiencing psychedelics. “In a flash, I knew I wanted to learn about art and to make art,” the Rochester, NY, artist recalled. “Three years later, I was a student at the legendary San Francisco Art Institute.” 

Hoag currently has a solo exhibition of his large-scale Funk-Surreal sculptures, “Off Script and Unexpected,” on display at the Schweinfurth Art Center in Auburn. The exhibit runs through Jan. 7, 2024, and Hoag will be giving an artist’s talk about his process and inspirations at 2 p.m. Dec. 16, 2023.

“Spring semester 1977, while a painting major, I took a beginning sculpture course with famed Funk sculptor William Geis,” Hoag said. “That summer I went to see the Rauschenberg retrospective at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and saw live — not in a book or an art history slide lecture — several of his Combines.”

Hoag was hooked. But he took a long road to get to where he is today. 

His last year in college, he struggled with his sexuality as a bisexual-queer man. He declined acceptance in the MFA program and moved to Rochester, where he had grown up and still had friends. He got married and started a family. He trained at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology to become a freelance interpreter and left art making behind for eight long years. 

“Spring semester 1987, I accepted an interpreting assignment for a deaf student enrolled in an art course at SUNY Brockport,” Hoag said. “When Prof. Bill Stewart presented to the class a slideshow of his ceramic sculptures, I immediately connected with his work and recognized the influence of Funk ceramics in it.

“That connection moment once again stirred in me that passion for art and art making,” he added. “As I followed his work, I was inspired to get back to mine.”

He began drawing, transitioned quickly to painting, then began making sculptures from natural, industrial, and otherwise fabricated objects. He turned to video following his divorce and an artist residency in Leipzig, Germany, and in 2010 returned to sculpting with objects.

Hoag collects the parts for his sculptures from thrift and second-hand stores, online markets, stores that sell home décor items, and more. “No place is off limits,” he said. He said the goal of his art is to inspire viewers to feel “that same wonderment I experience, to stir the viewer’s imagination, engaging their own cultivated power to invent stories and construct internal narratives about my sculptures.

“Art is a work of magic, between the artist and the artwork, between the artwork and the viewer.”

If you go…

WHAT: “Off Script and Unexpected” exhibition, by Rochester artist Lee Hoag
WHEN: Through Jan. 7, 2024
WHERE: Schweinfurth Art Center, 205 Genesee St., Auburn, NY
ARTIST’S TALK: 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023; talk is free with $10 per person 
GALLERY HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. 
ALSO ON DISPLAY: “Quilts=Art=Quilts 2023,” a juried exhibition of art quilts