Harmonica Whiz Lee Oskar is Also a Pro With a Paintbrush

He is currently painting and recording for another album, “A Lonely Waltz (Til We Met).” Paintings allow him to work through his feelings.

by Andrea Brown at the Herald: Lee Oskar is as nimble with a paintbrush as he is with a harmonica.

He is known for his harp moves in the Grammy-nominated band War’s 1975 hit “Low Rider” and other songs.

After a nearly six-decade career as both a collaborator and a solo artist, Oskar, 74, divides his time between music and art in the suburbs of Everett.

Lee Oskar and his dog Tex inside his art studio in his Everett home. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

“It comes from the same thing, same place, whether it’s painting or music, and I’m making it up as I go along,” he said. “It’s in me, all the time. I’m in my own zone, between my painting and music. How cool is that?”

Raised in Denmark, Oskar started playing the harmonica when he was 6. He moved to the U.S. at 18 to get closer to the music scene and connect with rock stars — and then he became one, working the L.A. club scene and going on world tours with the band War.

He started Lee Oskar Harmonicas, a signature brand of instruments, in 1983 while on the music circuit. He founded his own record label, Dreams We Share, to produce his own music. It’s all part of what is now Lee Oskar Enterprises.

Oskar eventually landed in Washington, and in recent years, Everett. He does gigs at various venues around Seattle and at North City Bistro in Shoreline. He did a fundraiser for Historic Everett Theater. In summer, he invites his neighbors over for an outdoor show.

He lives on a quiet cul-de-sac with Tex, a mellow Lab-mix rescue. One studio has sound equipment and gold record awards. The other has hundreds of paint tubes.

A detail of Oskar’s painting “Tolerance,” featured on his album with the song “World For Peace.” (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

“He is now starting to get recognition as a visual artist,” said his publicist, Karen Leipziger.

About 25 of his paintings were featured in April at a gallery in Nashville, where he did presentations.

“It was an incredible response to his music and art,” she said.

The original masterpieces don’t come cheap.

“Generally between 10 to 20 grand,” Oskar said. “If somebody loves it and I’m stoked that they love my painting, I’m willing to negotiate anything. I’m a starving artist who loves to be acknowledged.”

Giclee ink prints of his paintings are $150.

One of Oskar’s paintings featured on his album “Never Forget.” (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Oskar’s pet peeve is when people say, “Well, I like the painting, but I’m not sure it goes with my furniture.”

“That’s their prerogative when it comes to decorating,” he said. “For me as an artist I’m, ‘You’re eff-ing crazy, that’s my painting. You’re going to say it doesn’t go with your furniture?”’

You can own a copy of Oskar’s art with his latest album, “Never Forget,” sold on vinyl as a coffee table book or CD format. Every track has a painting.

He painted for years but did mainly abstracts and landscapes before this project, where dots of paint became faces.

“Never Forget” is is a soulful and instrumental tribute to those killed in the Holocaust. Among the victims was Oskar’s grandmother, who died in a concentration camp. His mother and aunt survived.

“I’m second-generation from horrific things,” he said. “It filters through. It didn’t stop when my mom got liberated. It continues and if those things were unexpressed and I went to the grave I would have been ashamed calling myself an artist.”

Oskar with his painting that also doubles as the album art work on his album, “Never Forget.” (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The paintings allowed him to work through his feelings.

“I started seeing faces and I’m saying, ‘Who in the hell are you?’” Oskar said. “Stuff that’s been haunting me for years. And as I was doing this technique and the faces were coming through, that’s what you see in the album.”

He didn’t make “Never Forget” to add another gold record award to his wall.

“I feel like the energies are coming from outside through me. I can’t explain it,” he said. “If I was to say spirits come through me, some people would say that’s wacky. It’s not that tangible. It’s in the moment. Same thing as when I do music.”

He is currently painting and recording for another album, “A Lonely Waltz (Til We Met).”

I’ve been painting like crazy for this new album I’ve got coming out,” he said. “It’s different, but my style is my style.”

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