The creation of art is an alchemical process of transforming chaos into coherence.
The International Settlement in Shanghai was neutral ground during World War ll and it was there that RubyLee's mother, who was of Japanese and English descent and from whom she inherited her talent for drawing, met and married her father, F.X. Long. A journalist by profession, he had grown up in cosmopolitan circumstances as the son of Austrian Leopoldini Rössler and Chinese magician Long Tack Sam.
Her grandfather Long Tack Sam was one of the brightest stars of Vaudeville in the early 1900s, topping the bill at New York’s Palace Theater and touring the world with his exotic troop of acrobats.
Born in Hong Kong in 1948, the first of four children, she traveled with her family to Japan, eventually setting sail for Western Europe through the Suez Canal to Marseille and onto Vienna. In 1956, her father landed a position with Reuters News Agency in London where her formal education began in earnest. Guided and encouraged by her parents, she was drawing ever since she could hold a pencil, winning an academic scholarship to a French convent school and taking extra curricula life drawing classes. After completing an advance level course in Art History, she was awarded a Foundation Scholarship to St. Martin’s School of Art in the center of London, where most of her time was spent with the old masters of the High Italian Renaissance at the National Gallery. Her drawing skills were already above average and a yearning for spiritual growth began to surface. It was the 1960’s and she was enjoying the company of bohemian beat poets, musicians, painters, sculptors, photographers, and art house filmmakers. Looking through the books of a second hand bookstore in Soho, she noticed a little bright yellow book entitled “Karma and the Law of Cause and Effect”. In the popular art world, Andy Warhol was making statements with multiple images of Campbell Soup cans, John Cage was being heralded in the music of the avant-garde, Yoko Ono was climbing naked in and out of plastic bags at the Arts Lab, and RubyLee decided to leave the British Isles in search of the wisdom of the East that she had glimpsed in that tiny yellow book. The principal at St. Martin’s wished her well on her quest for illumination and reminded her to return the book on Leonardo Da Vinci to the school library.
In a Chelsea restaurant called Muffins, Anthony Summers, now author then journalist on BBC’s 24 Hours, bought one of her first oil paintings entitled “Angie”. With this £40 sale, she left her few worldly possessions including paints and portfolio with a reliable high school friend, donned a colorful Tibetan blanket, packed an extra pair of blue jeans and her passport into a hand woven bag and embarked for the great unknown with a huge sense of adventure and armed with only a sketchbook and pencils. In Greece, she boarded a steamer headed for the Middle East with thoughts of going overland by train to Katmandu by drawing quick portraits of faces that she saw in cafés along the way to pay for room and board. However, in Jerusalem, influenced by the music of the times and experimenting with mind expanding substances, she was introduced to the posters of San Francisco’s psychedelic artists and to Stanley Kubrick’s iconic imagery of death and rebirth in the film “2001: A Space Odyssey”. This convergence of events led to a spiritual awakening and her course was redirected to the USA.
Arriving in New York City in October 1969, she made her way across country to the coast of Northern California where she became enamored of the gentle flower children and the movement to return to the Native Americans’ tribal ways, with a reverence for the sacredness of the natural world and an understanding of the web of life.
In 1972, in San Francisco’s North Beach, an energetic man with piercing dark eyes, took her by the hand. His opening line was “Let’s do a painting together.” He painted sumi-like landscapes on a white canvas using bold, broad brushstrokes. Neither of them signed any of their canvases until the vice president of Walt Disney Productions wanted to buy one of their joint paintings in Ojai and insisted upon a signature. Whereupon, Ruby signed both Popo and RubyLee and a myth was born. In fact, they actually painted on only two or three canvases together. Rather Popo began to groom her talent, direct the imagery, and assume the role of business manager. They collaborated on countless paintings for the next ten years. She describes this early work under the influence of Popo’s technique of thin oil washes in fast, loose spontaneous strokes, as sketches in oil paint. At a street fair in L.A., an art publishing house in Beverley Hills with world wide distribution, discovered her work and published her painting entitled "Proud American" (1974) as an unlimited edition offset lithograph.. Avidly painting three or four canvases a day like a musician practicing scales, she would over time, refine her brushstrokes and subtly augment the colors of her palette while working with live models, teaching them Yoga and Tai Chi. In 1979, the monetary value of her work hit a milestone when the original painting "Manifestation of The Light" sold for $10,000. USD.
Her love for Zen, a white Arabian horse, produced some magnificent paintings of horses. Although the physical models were the Andalusian stallions of Hollywood’s Budd Boetticher, it was her beloved horse Zen who inspired her as she took the reins of her own life while the relationship with Popo dissolved.
It was the mid-eighties and Wavy Gravy, the Voice at Woodstock and clown prince of the counterculture, found her exhibiting her work at an Earth Day Festival. Out of this meeting emerged a huge portrait of his face, which was subsequently used as the centerpiece of a Rock ‘n’ Roll poster designed by Alton Kelley, one of the 5 major Fillmore Poster Artists of the sixties and chronicled by Paul Grushkin in “The Art of Rock”. David Crosby, of Crosby Stills Nash and Young, upon purchasing the original portrait at a show in Santa Fe, New Mexico, declared: “the painting looks more like Wavy than Wavy!” The galleries and art dealers who had successfully handled her work for the past fifteen years were calling for her to continue painting American Indian maidens with headbands. Refusing to repeat her imagery, she withdrew from the marketplace and lived the life of a stereotypical starving artist with the modest support of art patrons and benefactors and sustained by a loving village community.
In 1993, Dmitri Stroganov, a Russian muralist, was brought to her door. Here was an artist who was traditionally trained in St.Petersburg with a high standard of excellence in the arts and an understanding of synæsthesia - creating sound with visuals and visuals with sound. She valued his discerning eye and sense of design. He was in awe of her ability to paint the human figure and she invited him into her studio, where, during the next four years, she worked on twenty archetypal figures based on the Mayan calendar that were interwoven with his geometric lines and shapes. From Dmitri, she learned to create musical arrangements through color and composition by seeing on another level. By the turn of the twenty first century, her work had evolved from the personal to the transpersonal. Her painting had returned to an elegant simplicity -- the gestures ever graceful; the flesh tones luminescent; the emotional content transcendent.
Decades of painting tiny brushstrokes had taken a physical toll on her painting arm and in 2007, she was forced to lay down her brushes. Nevertheless, as a conduit for the unstoppable flow of creative energy, it became imperative that she find a new medium. Undaunted, she enrolled at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in Motion Pictures and Television.
Now equipped with a thorough understanding of every element of filmmaking and having developed a super sharp eye and a keen ear, it became evident that to succeed in the movie business, she would have to move to Hollywood - the entertainment capital of the world. This required another leap of faith!
In 2014, from a reclusive contemplative painter who communed with Nature in a rarified atmosphere, she plunged into the corporate culture of a major motion picture studio: Warner Bros.
To be continued...
Footnote: With her crossover to the cinematic arts, she reclaimed her family name of Long and changed the spelling of the Cantonese Lee to the Mandarin version Li - thus Ruby Li Long.