Lily Renée Part of ACF-NY Exhibit

The Austrian Cultural Forum New York is pleased to announce the presentation of Three with a Pen: Lily Renée, Bil Spira, and Paul Peter Porges featuring works by the three Jewish artists driven from their homes in Vienna after the German annexation of Austria, the so-called “Anschluss,”, in 1938. On view March 11 through September 3, 2021, the exhibition showcases examples of their signature work in comic books, New Yorker cartoons, Mad magazine spoofs, caricatures, portraiture, fashion design, advertising, and children’s books, among other formats.

While profiling all three artists, ACF-NY notes of Lily Renée:

She celebrates her 100th birthday this year.

So we’re going to concentrate on Lily.

… Although lesser known, the comic book heroine Señorita Rio was Hollywood starlet Rita Farrar by day and Nazi-fighting secret agent by night. The artist who drew Rio’s action-packed panels in the 1940s, and signed as L. Renee, lived a sort of double life, too.

“Everybody assumed I was a man,” artist Lily Renee Phillips has said of the fan mail she received at the time, which was always addressed to “Mr. Renee.” Fans knew neither Renee’s gender nor her incredible origin story, which rivaled the plotline of Señorita Rio. 

After  doing production work and assisting artists in the Fiction House bullpen Lily got her first solo assignment in 1943. She spent about a dozen years drawing comics for the Fiction House and St. John companies and then dropped out of sight. (Trina Robbins found her some years ago.)

Starting in the 1950s, Renee worked as a freelance artist and textile designer. She took writing courses with Philip Roth, and wrote plays and children’s books. She befriended contemporary artists, including the photographer Diane Arbus. She was still drawing and painting until a few years ago.

Karen Chernick, for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, talked with family and friends about the artist.

Although [Lily] was unable to speak to a reporter,
her daughter and colleagues spoke about her improbable life.

Lily Renée Wilhelm Peters Philips turns 100 on May 12, 2021.

Below: Jane Martin by Lily Renée from 1943, her first solo outing(?).