The Daily Gamecock

‘Chicken Man’ earns following, money with eclectic paintings

Art makes way to state museum, walls all around Midlands

If you’ve been on Greene Street during one of the Healthy Carolina farmer’s markets, you’ve seen Ernest J. Lee and his famous chickens.

Lee, or as many students and followers call him, “The Chicken Man,” paints from an outdoor gallery located on Whaley Street, eclectically weaving his place in Columbia’s local art scene.

“I paint the world from my point of view. I paint portraits, landscapes, cats and chickens, or whatever comes my way at the time,” Lee said. “If you look closely at my paintings, they speak. From my wood to the colors I use — they tell a story.”

Lee studied art at the Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art in Augusta, Ga., as well as the Rose Hill Arts Center in Aiken before finding a home in Columbia.

“I just kept on going, and I never stopped. My niche is painting,” Lee said. “I am a pop artist who actually sells his work. I value actually selling my paintings.”

Lee’s paintings range from $25 to $20,000. His vision is of a “Chicken Man” painting hanging in every American home. Recently, Lee said he’s considered selling his art in Europe as well.

“Everyone is a potential client,” Lee said. “You never know who will want an original Ernest J. Lee painting.”

The most popular paintings Lee creates are the famous “Funky Chickens.” They’re multicolored cartoon birds that appear to be dancing and having the time of their lives.

According to Lee, this idea all began over a simple coffee conversation when a friend suggested he paint some form of a chicken.

“I didn’t want to paint an actual chicken; I wanted to come up with my own style of chicken,” Lee said. “What you see today is my version of this animal. I do give my friend credit for suggesting it, though. It’s the best thing I could have ever done.”

While the “Funky Chicken” paintings are the most successful, Lee also focuses on butterflies, cats, crabs, fish, palmetto trees and even portraits.

“I have an attitude to never give up, which has gotten me where I am today,” Lee said. “As an artist I want my name to be valued. I enjoy seeing people buying my work.”

Recently, the South Carolina State Museum secured several of Lee’s painting for its permanent collection. Lee says the free-form art comes to life through the vivid colors he chooses, which add to the exclusiveness of each of painting.

“The people of Columbia have been there for to me,” Lee said. “I am grateful to have this opportunity to demonstrate my abilities to this city.”

Lee’s paintings can be viewed as well as purchased on his website,