(l-r) The artists, Joe and Bess Lee, at home with their dog George. Photo by Nicole McPheeters


In conjunction with April’s celebration of the environment, and Earth Day on April 22, Bloomington residents Bess and Joe Lee will present Professor Animalia’s Menagerie of Struggling Species—Save the Animals; Save Yourself! at the Blueline Gallery, 212 W. 4th St., April 6–30.

Joe is an illustrator. Bess is a painter and retired K–12 art teacher. The husband-and-wife team will exhibit more than a dozen 2 1/2-foot-by-3-foot acrylic paintings on paper in the style of mid-20th-century circus sideshow banners.

“We intend to combine whimsical folk art with the reality of extinction,” Bess says. “Circus banners were frequently stylized visual promotions, displaying the awe that risk-performers inspired—the trapeze artists, for example. We’ll juxtapose that with death-defying honeybees on the high-wire act of extinction.” Each banner features an endangered species, such as black rhinoceros, giraffes, or Galapagos penguins.

“We hope to illuminate the circumstances of endangered species with both pathos and joy,” Joe says.

To set the stage on opening night, the gallery will be decked out like a circus and Joe will present a gallery talk in the character of a sideshow barker. Circus work is familiar to Joe, who spent six years as a professional circus clown.

The Lees will donate all exhibition proceeds from print, T-shirt, and coloring-book sales to Earth Charter, a global nonprofit organization dedicated to “a more just, sustainable, and peaceful world.”

“This is a culmination of our experience as individual artists and concerned citizens,” Bess says. “We plan to continue creating art, community, and awareness of the planet’s fragility.”

For more on Joe’s work, visit joeleeillustrator.com.

Check out the circus-art acrylic paintings on paper created by Joe and Bess Lee for the exhibition. (Click on the photo below to start the slideshow. Use the on-screen arrows or the arrows on your keyboard to navigate forward and backward.)