By Colleen Brannan
Charlotte commercial real estate veteran, Ted Lee, has been leading a double life for decades now. While emceeing the CRCBR Deal Makers Luncheon last Thursday at Quail Hollow Club, the Senior Director of Leasing for Spectrum Companies shed some light on his side hustle as an artist that has become a second full time job in recent years.
“What’s that joke about the 50-year overnight sensation?“ says Lee about his art career which is news to some but dates back to drawing albums covers as a kid. He used his GI Bill money from two years in the Air Force to earn a Bachelor’s of Fine Art in Painting from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) back in the ‘80s.
Then life gave way to marriage, kids and a career in commercial real estate so he quit painting for nearly 20 years. That all changed when he attended the Running of the Bulls in Spain with his wife and two young children that made one of his daughters cry and caused them to leave the event early. He returned from that trip, picked up the paint brush again after a two decade hiatus and painted what he still thinks might be his best piece ever “Bull Fighting With Tears.” He continued his commercial real estate career but from that moment forward, spent all his free time painting and drawing.
At Thursday’s CRCBR Awards, Lee asked for a show of hands for how many in the room had done a real estate deal with him. No surprise at the many hands in the air given Lee’s 30+ years in the business. Then, he asked how many owned or had a Ted Lee original painting in their office. Quite a few hands shot up and another joined the club as Ted raffled off one of his latest pieces, “Francy,” valued at $3500 to benefit Classroom Central.
From interior decorating shops such as Slate Interiors and Cotswold Marketplace to office building lobbies, the High Point Furniture Mart and homes around Charlotte, Ted Lee paintings are popping up everywhere. While typical price range is $2500-$7500, he says his highest selling price yet is $10,000. He wants art to be affordable for all which explains his $50 smaller pieces at Cotswold Marketplace that sell quickly. He also likes to mentor emerging artists and encourages them to stick with it when parents and counselors say you can’t make a living at it.
Commissioned pieces for both companies and individuals are the latest trend. In SouthPark, custom Ted Lee paintings can be found in The Morrison Building, The Roxborough Building as well as Carnegie VII and X. He hopes to expand to other cities where he does real estate business including Raleigh and Charleston.
Lee says while inspiration comes from everywhere from travel to nature, most of the actual painting takes place at his studio in NODA that he has rented for more than 20 years. It’s not unusual to find him there at all hours, with classic rock-n-roll blaring, as he never knows when creativity will strike.
For an artist in such growing demand, Lee surprisingly has no agent and doesn’t want one. He reps himself with the help of colleagues, word of mouth, Instagram and letting his work speak for itself in homes, offices and store windows. You can see more of his work on Instagram @ted_lee_art.