Bob Lee was an inspiration to so many. He came to any conversation often with radical ideas, opinions and an enthusiasm that could persuade you to do what you had always wanted to do, but somehow never had the confidence to pull off, the very next day. He would look at you with a cunning smile and say “Why not? What d’you think?”
So it was that one evening in a London pub a small gathering with Bob at the centre, wrote down a few key notes for setting up The Collective – a simple but unique way to collect and share contemporary art works between seven households in London. Seventeen years later it is still going and has over 65 artworks that we still share between us. Bob will always remain at the centre of our Collective thinking but very sadly he is no longer with us. After a long battle with cancer, he passed away on the 20th September with his family at his side.
Bob’s passion for the arts was as vital as his commitment to politics and the causes he supported throughout his life. He never did anything in halves but immersed himself in a way that gave him a rare ability to talk to curators and artists with an ease that won him respect and friendships in many different circles as if he’d been doing it all his life.
Clutching on to a well-wrapped artwork as he fell overboard a Dutch barge (the home of another Collective member) in to the Thames was probably a memory we would all rather forget, but remains etched in the Collective’s history. Unable to swim well he was rapidly plucked out of the water still clutching on to an unharmed art work determined to make sure the work took priority.
“I think it’s OK” he said referring to the artwork as he shivered from the cold wet dip. Both survived well from the experience.
Bob’s energy seemed endless moving from work to family to attending private views in the evening, and art fairs and exhibitions when they came along. As his knowledge of artists grew he always had an eye out for the next purchase – often succumbing to what became known as a “side order” – a purchase for his own personal collection if he couldn’t persuade the Collective’s purchasing panel of the moment that we should buy a particular work. “it was an excellent opportunity – it would have been crazy to miss it” he would be heard exclaiming.
When it came to reasoned argument he was a master, quelling minor storms in opinion over purchases or exchange bids and suggesting ideas for the next Collective step in a journey that had already lasted much longer than any of us anticipated. He listened with equal measure to the thoughts of others, never wishing to dismiss alternative opinions and encouraging to the end, but somehow managing to win us around to his viewpoint without us noticing. Discussion (and a glass of wine) were surely the best route to making good decisions.
People and family were central to Bob’s life and from which much of his thinking emanated. His role as a founding member of the Collective was no coincidence but deeply embedded in what he liked doing most – sharing, appreciating, discussing and being open to new ways of looking at the world through art.
His loss will be felt by so many and yet his legacy will remain in our minds and hearts for ever.
Our thoughts are with his wife Jo, and his two children Manu and Olivia.