"The Flex has really beautiful lines," Lee explains. "It lends itself to imagery along the sides and the hood. I wanted people to say, 'Wow, that is the new Flex.' I approached the vehicle with that in mind."
"I studied and thought and sketched. Then I put in eighteen- to twenty-hour days for a month. It took more tape than it took paint." Since he was working on a car instead of a wall or a canvas, there was no room for redos and no chance for error, so he had to work section by section.
As he worked last fall, times changed. The economic skies darkened. Hard times suddenly returned. The nation's mood began to remind Lee even more of the inflationary 1970s.
"Some say history repeats itself. I say history rhymes with itself."
So his concept evolved, and the imagery morphed. A stockbroker, a man in a hat and suit, is somehow on a skateboard, surrounded by taxis, going who knows where? Lee calls him "the broke stockbroker." A darkened skyscraper evokes the famous New York City blackout of 1977. The Madonna-like figure stands for the juncture of music and fashion. As a reminder of Lee's youth, there is a subway train and a bit of subway map, along with big yellow taxis. "I think of them as great golden lions," Lee says. Those familiar with New York's garment district will spot the landmark button-and-needle sculpture.
On one fender is the checkerboard pattern of city windowpanes. The rear windows are partly painted over. Dynamic, diagonal lines overcome the rectilinear shapes of the vehicle itself and make the box float and move. All these images blend, dreamlike. In the paint on the Flex's skin, the box dissolves, with dark backgrounds that create a sense of depth. The layers and layers of sprayed paint have been carefully polished and buffed by Ricky Maldonado, Lee's genius assistant, into a deep, rich surface. Peer into that depth, and you see an abstract silhouetted singer at a mike, who stands for Lee's musical memories of New York: punk at CBGB, the Talking Heads at the Mudd Club, hip-hop, Debbie Harry.
Angles and vectors and arrows literally cross over in the complex painting to mark the crossing over of cultures. Everyone will spot the Brooklyn Bridge, with its noble stone towers and gothic arches. "But I also love the Williamsburg Bridge, because it is more functional and basic, just steel," Lee reflects.