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Inside the Pawtucket workspace of painter Monica Lee

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When you step inside the sun-filled studio of painter Monica Lee, at first you don’t realize the scale of her work because the space is so large. Like most mill buildings enjoying a second chance as mixed-use properties, there’s an ample footprint, with high ceilings, brick walls, enormous multi-paned windows, and hardwood floors. While rooms of this size could seem cold and cavernous, Monica’s studio is warm and inspiring; 40x40 canvases with subjects like abstract florals and female figures in sultry pigments line white walls. “I love the overall square footage,” says Monica.

“I like to have soft cozy surroundings. The more pillows, textiles, blankets, rugs around, the better, but I also love a good disco ball and vintage gold cocktail cart. Shiny things make me happy.” Monica has coined the phrase “Leftover Bohemian Glamour” to describe her style, explaining, “‘Leftovers’ as in from my house, as I use moving something to the studio as my excuse to replace something in my home!” There is also a mood board, filled with clippings, stacks of art books, and bouquets of stained brushes in glass and tin vessels.

Monica was introduced to 545 Mills a couple years ago when she borrowed studio space from a friend in preparation to bring large paintings to Shanghai Fashion Week. It was the first time she had painted away from her own home. “The mental shift I made on the drive to the studio was really good for my painting,” she recalls. “Basically, in a short ride to the studio, I was able to occupy the space that shifted me into my art practice. Plus, there’s no dishwasher to unload!” Today she shares the studio with photographer Pam Bhatia. “It is so great to be able to have these old mill buildings to set yourself up in. It has encouraged me to scale-up my work.”

Currently, Monica paints with acrylics and oils on wood and canvas, and uses terms such as “sensual” and “abundant” when discussing her work. “Whether it shows up in the female figure or lush tropical botanicals – I can’t seem to tear myself away from a deeply feminine story. I believe young and older women alike hold a sense of mystery inside themselves, they are really quite beautiful.”