Lee Joo For was born in 1929 in Penang. In 1957, he was awarded a scholarship by the Malaysian government to study art the Brighton College of Art. Whilst over there, he received additional scholarships to study at the Camberwell School of Art, followed by the prestigious Royal College of Art, which accepts only the most outstanding artists from England and the rest of the world. On his return, he taught art initially at the Penang Free School and subsequently was the Head of the Art Department, Malaysian Teacher’s College, Johore Bahru.
“The true artist is an intellectual, finely attuned to all the influence of the arts around him. He draws from the worthwhile of music, poetry, literature and the philosophical sciences. He is not brashly and emptily modern. He admires the best of history and customs and traditions and invokes the images and patterns of the past to empearl them in fresh light and look in the modern symbolic context of today.”
Joo For is generally regarded as one of the group of artists who shaped the new aesthetic of the sixties, after receiving formal art education in Europe. The new movement reflected the activities of the artists in Europe and the U.S.A. viz the expressionists and the abstract expressionists.
In the search for a new visual language, Joo For delves not only into painting but also into the practice of sculpture and the varied techniques of printmaking. He was considered by many art critics as one of the leading graphic artists of Malaysia. His graphics including woodcuts, linocuts, etchings, lithographics, monotypes, serigraphics etc have been collected by many museums and galleries in the United States, England, Australia, Italy, Japan and other countries.
Besides local exhibitions, he had one-man exhibitions at London Commonwealth Institute (1960), International Institute, New York (1969), Kansas University (1969) and Washington Goodwind Mansions (1969). He also represented Malaysia at the Tokyo International Print Exhibition (1966),the Italian Expositions of International Prints (1976), Montreal Expo Combined Exhibition (1970) and Sao Paolo Combined Exhibition (1970).
In addition, Joo For was one of Malaysia’s leading playwrights, and was the winner of the Malaysian Drama Festival Best Playwright Prize successively in 1969, 1970 and 1971. He is also a poet, novelist and short-story writer. He also directed plays and choreographed modern dance.
He is presently residing in Australia as a lecturer in Creative Arts, Catholic University, Victoria and continues to paint regularly, with special interest in Chinese calligraphy. He is one of the artists featured in ‘Modern Artists of Malaysia’ by T.K Sabathy and R.Piyadasa, published in 1983 by Dewan Bahasa and Pustaka.