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Special catalogue for Native Mumbling Series.
13×17” size, special binding, hand made covers.
44 page full-color catalogue with 17 painting images, edited and printed by Misulsegye in Korea
Native Mumbling: Ma Ba Sa exhibit at Cheryl Hazan Contemporary Art, NY
20 page full-color catalogue
Native Mumbling: Ga Na Da Ra exhibit at Phillips Gallery, SLC, Utah
34 page full-color catalogue.
Meditative Gesture exhibit at Bill Lowe Gallery, Atlanta, Georgia.
Fifty-two page full-color catalogue, perfect binding
Essay by Dr. Bruce Adams (Art Historian/ Art Critic in Sydney).
Touch: Meditation Joins Gesture at Phillips Gallery, Salt Lake City, Utah
Eight page full-color brochure, staple binding
Contact: Phillips Gallery (801.364.8284)
Hyunmee Lee’s Touch: Meditation Joins Gesture
By Courtney Davis (2008)
The gestural paintings of Hyunmee Lee are sumptuously minimal. Rich forms advance from buttery canvases like an abstract garden. Gauzy veils of paint hover like soft air against the ebony weight of matter. Light peeks through translucent shapes like sunlight illuminating soft mist. Texture swirls and echoes across the canvas as if carved by waves or eroded by the wind. The viewer, invited into a realm of contemplation and meditation, is surprised to look away and see the physical world existing in only three dimensions. But perhaps that is precisely the experience the artist would like the viewer to have.
In her current exhibition, Touch, on display at the Phillips Gallery in Salt Lake City, Utah, Lee focuses on the power of the shape, asserting the desire for her work to become “more simple and bold” as “inspired by a concept of ‘freedom’ from the world” and from the artist”s own mind. This freedom takes the form of striking, dominant shapes not seen in Lee’s previous works. Rather than focus on the subtle interplay of soft, diaphanous forms, Lee explores the impact of confident, abstract shapes nearly geometric in form. The rectilinear ebony shapes in Inland Crossing No.4 and Seraphic Stone No.37 ground the dimensional layers of abstract space, just as Dimensional Poetics #1 and Seraphic Stone No.36 incorporate a strong pictorial, almost graphic, quality that differs from the artist’s previous works.
Although Touch reveals a bolder side to Lee, the Korean-born artist has not divorced herself from her eastern roots. Quite the contrary, the exhibit confirms that the harmonious marriage of western abstraction and eastern sensibility is still thriving in Lee’s works.
Touch highlights Lee’s personal and physical relationship with her work, which is alive with her signature meditative gesture. But Lee’s large, squared canvases do not simply record the artist’s gestures in abstract expressionist fashion. Working with brushes and palette knives on carefully prepared ground, Lee interacts with her materials. Paint is applied in layers, as washes or opaque blocks. Expressive lines are formed with china markers, oil sticks and oil pencils.
Lee’s work embraces the unity of opposites. Influenced by Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism, Lee balances the spontaneity of intuitive painterly impulses with the resolution of deliberate forms and shapes. Just as her own life merges East and West, the artist seeks to accommodate opposing energies in her work: the meditative process, which is slow, deliberate, and akin to repetition, and gesture, which is spontaneous and quick. Although her process is far from being impulsive or unpremeditated, Lee admits that sometimes nature bestows gifts, wherein the spontaneous gesture is complete in itself. Other times, however, the process is much more demanding, requiring hours of deliberation and contemplation. It is this balance between spontaneity and restraint, gesture and meditation that forms the heart of Lee’s work.
Heightening the interplay of opposition, many works featured in Touch juxtapose soft, tender yellow against an otherwise monochromatic palette. Strong ebony shapes highlight the influence of eastern calligraphy, as well as the artist’s interest in the eastern concepts of emptiness and nothingness. Thus, rather than representing death or pessimism, Lee’s use of black is more about the presence of light than its absence. Far from being steeped in negativity or pessimism, Lee uses black to open a dimension outside of the physical world, a place of meditation where judgment is suspended so that the viewer can move to a realm of advancement. In this respect, Lee’s works function as verbs—invitations to a space of meditation created by the supreme balance of opposition.
Indeed, the eastern philosophical underpinnings of Lee’s works separate her from a classic western expressionist. Lee’s individualistic technique of uniting meditation and gesture echoes the ancient principles of Tao: To yield is to be preserved whole. To be bent is to become straight. To be empty is to be full. To be worn out is to be renewed. To have little it to possess. To have plenty is to be perplexed.
(Courtney Davis is an art historian, lecturer, and attorney.)
Prepared for Foreordained Gesture exhibit at Nuart Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Twelve-page full-color brochure, staple binding
Prepared for Intimacy without Restraint exhibit at Utah museum of Fine Arts, SLC, Utah
Twenty-four page full-color brochure
Confronting the paintings of Hyunmee Lee, what impresses is their celebration of gesture and depiction of a nearly unlimited sense of space. Abstract and intuitively painterly, her aesthetic is one of immediacy perpetually seeking its own nature. Her marks as gesture, either as broadly applied brush strokes or swiftly rendered lines applied with an oil stick or a china marker, weave in and out of amorphous fields of paint. Scale is important, and in her recent paintings, the square format of her canvases (either eight foot or one foot) suggests other than merely a window view into the seen world.
The legacy of Lee’s paintings incorporates ancient and modern forms of Asian calligraphy, 20th-century forms of abstraction, including European Art Informal or Tachism, American Abstract Expressionism and the Korean Monochrome movement. She studied calligraphy with her grandfather and by the age of five was deemed the best amongst her brothers and sisters. In Asian cultures, the study of calligraphy is considered an important part of ones education. It starts in childhood and often becomes a lifelong practice as an art form.
The tools of calligraphy – the brush, ink, and paper – are basically the same as those used intraditional forms of Asian painting. In essence, calligraphy is an abstract art, judged as much for its beauty, grace, and energy, as for the single words or characters that the calligraphic ideogram signifies. Lee has acknowledged the importance of her early training in calligraphy and her respect for the Korean Ink painters, including Soe Se-Ok, whose significant calligraphic gesture was important to contemporary Korean artists.
It is important to make distinctions between the arts of contemporary calligraphy and contemporary abstract painting. There are formal resemblances, for instance, between the brush strokes of an Abstract Expressionist painting and the ink strokes of cursive “running grass” script of Asian calligraphy. The French abstract painter Pierre Soulages judged Japanese calligraphy solely for its formal beauty, and since he could not read or speak the language, had no understanding of the meaning of the ideograms, the traditions from which they evolved and the sounds the written characters represented. In Lee’s own study ofEuropean abstraction, she was drawn to Soulages’ Black paintings, impressed by the vital force of his abstract calligraphic gesture and the collision and harmony of his invented forms. In her study of the abstractions by Hans Hartung she noted how his powerful calligraphic brushstrokes activate and compress space.
Upon her return to Korea from Sydney in 1991, where she continued here study of Western painting, Lee quickly found herself immersed in the thriving contemporary art scene that had developed in Seoul. She began teaching at Hong-Ik University, joining her mentor Pak Seobo, one of the country’s most famous artists and a founding member of the Korean Monochrome movement of the 1970s. “The Monochrome Artists,” the critic Youngna Kim has written, “found their basis in Taoism, espousing an Eastern intellectualism and asserting that they were carrying on with the traditional East Asian paradigm and view of nature.” In his series of paintings titled Ecriture, Pak Seo-bo applied pigment to canvas and thencompletely covered the surface with pencil lines, so densely applied that his mediums ultimately became one.
This became his process of unifying the self with nature, of seeking a transcendental state. In an article that he wrote in 1977 he asserted, “My biggest interest is to live by pure action for nothingness. Like memorizing a chant or meditating, entering a transcendent state through repetition, or repeating the act of emptying myself.” Pak Seobo’s statement is in sync with Lee’s, when she declares, “The repetition of making and erasing form is how I deconstruct the existing order to make formless space.”
It is their shared Buddhist concept of the vastness of nature, and their quest to find unification within that vastness, that connects Lee with Pak Seo-bo. While visiting Lee in her studio and home in Pleasant Grove, Utah, she made the interesting comment that the Asian view of nature is one of bringing the outside in to the centered self, while in the West, we tend to project the centered self outwards upon nature. She refers to this Asian view of self and nature as “outside sight.” The source of energy that connect the self with all things, including formlessness and nothingness, is known in Zen as Ch’i, a principal source that not only animates Lee’s paintings and drawings, but defines her sense of spiritual identity. She would agree with the American Abstract Expressionist painter Jackson Pollock, who, when asked how his painting referred to nature, famously responded, “I am nature.”
Lee’s recent paintings continue to explore gesture and space. The big 90-square inch paintings that are included in Intimacy without Restraint: the Gesture Paintings of Lee Lee, organized for the Utah Museum of Fine Arts by independent curator Frank McEntire, are complex in their monochromatic tones. Her fields of gray are rich in their variation, some shading to a blue or purple tone, others become almost silver. She has applied the areas of color with large paint brushes, freely laying in broad areas and often creating layers of color. The lines moving across the surface of her color fields are rapidly drawn with oil stick and china marker. They twist and loop in a continuous manner, nervously activating the more broadly swept fields of color. Swiftness of execution is important. The dry media of oil stick and china marker has the advantage of providing a continuous extension of her line, not possible with a brush, which would have to be continually dipped in paint in order to complete a line. In the spontaneous act of painting, it is as if Lee’s fields of color and drawn lines are making the shortest possible route between her mind and hand.
The many small paintings in this exhibition, all being one foot square, should not be thought of as studies. In spite of their diminutive scale and installed on the museum walls as groups, each has its own sense of identity, its own completeness. They are related to a previous group of similar-sized paintings, her series Fragments of Mountains: 90 Days of Improvisation. They are exercises in the balance between action and rest and like Robert Motherwell’s series of black and blue ink paintings on paper (from his 1965 series the Lyric Suite); create counterpoints between action and rest. In these works, as in her larger paintings, the swiftly rendered gesture shares a compositional field of color. The composition and space she explores in these paintings, just as in classical Chinese and Korean landscape painting and in contemporary abstraction, is an invented one. The invented space suggests expansiveness and can, from painting to painting, range in emotional tone from a state of agitation to one of meditative calmness. Her line as gesture,like her own signature, is wiry and boldly free in its movement.
Lee’s expression in the language of abstraction is not a withdrawal from the objective world, but an intense investigation of nature and the subjective self. She has profited by her study of painting in Asia and the Western world, and she has reached a level of maturity in her own painting that will continue to be enriched in the future. For Hyunmee Lee, painting is a process of continual renewal, a tactile and spiritual act of immediacy and intimacy.
Notes: Quotes from Youngna Kim and Pak Seo-bo were taken from the on-line paper ,Two Traditions: Monochrome Art of the 1970s, and Minjung (People’s) Art of the 1980s, by Youngna Kim, Seoul National University.
Comments by Lee were shared with Jim Edwards in a studio interview on December 9, 2005, or in e-mails that followed that studio visit.
Intimacy on a Large Scale: Hyunmee Lee’s abstract expressionist works are showcased in 2 galleries, by Dave Gagon Deseret Morning News (April 02, 2006)
By Dave Gagon
If you’re one of those who don’t believe that bigger is necessarily better, get ready to be converted. The abstract expressionist paintings of South Korean artist Hyunmee Lee — on display in the Utah Museum of Fine Arts through July 9, as well as Phillips Gallery through April 14 — will enlarge your vision about what great art on a grand scale can do for the soul.
Lee’s exhibit at the UMFA, “Intimacy without Restraint,” embraces the museum’s Great Hall with remarkable confidence. Never before has this enormous hall been so successfully utilized; each of her 12 90-by-90-inch square abstracts is allowed to impress and influence viewers without interference. And each grouping of her more than 100 12-inch square paintings climbs the 50-foot wall with elegant symmetry.
Her show at Phillips, “Outside Sight,” gives you another view of the expanse of her brush strokes and her swiftly rendered delicate lines. Both exhibits are most impressive.
Lee’s paintings combine a vast knowledge of and experience in Eastern calligraphic traditions with the gestural impact of modern Western painting; you could say she speaks Kandinsky, Soulages, Motherwell, Kline, Baziotes, Rothko and Twombly with an Asian accent. The result is a harmonious dissertation on space, form and line.
Piece from “Outside Sight” series (acrylic on canvas, 90 by 90 inches, 2006) by Hyunmee Lee at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts through July 9. “The general idea of my work is sharing,” Lee said, “and the method to share is based on the Oriental philosophy of Taoism. In Taoism, the main concept is being in the middle, notbeing judgmental, and bringing forth spontaneously.”
In the 2004 catalog of Lee’s show at the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, Utah State University, exhibit curator Frank McEntire wrote: “Hyunmee usually begins her work by drawing on the canvas, then putting down layers of paint and scumbling and marking the wet surface — but soon shifts to the spiritual explorations that cajole her work into existence.”
McEntire also curated Lee’s show at the UMFA. “The exhibition title, ‘Intimacy without Restraint,’ came from my first impressions of Lee’s new paintings,” he said.
According to McEntire, Lee’s art exudes “sensitivity, empowered by the artist’s unrestrained passion for her work and its expression of what she refers to as Ch’I (energy), life force.”
Born in Seoul, Korea, in 1961, Lee has been working as an abstract artist for 20 years, taking her inspiration from nature . She received her undergraduate degree at age 24 from the College of Fine Arts, Hong-Ik University in Seoul. Lee then studied six years at the University of Sydney, completed two advanced degrees and then returned to Korea in 1991 to teach at her alma mater.
In 1997, she married fellow Korean, Kyu Lee, and moved permanently to the United States. Eventually they arrived in Utah where her husband would become a practicing architect.
Today, besides being a full-time artist, Lee teaches art at Utah Valley State College, a position she thoroughly enjoys. “She’s a real advocate for her students,” said McEntire.
Painting from “Outside Sight” series (acrylic on canvas, 48 by 48 inches, 2006) by Hyunmee Lee at Phillips Gallery through April 14. Lee’s works combine vast knowledge of Eastern calligraphic tradition.
“Hyunmee was famous in her own country,” said Meri DeCaria, director of Phillips Gallery. “Her openings were main events. Unfortunately, she is still relatively unknown here.”
Something these two exhibits should quickly remedy. (For an excellent recounting of Lee’s background, influences and ideas, read Jim Edwards’ essay in the exhibition catalog at the UMFA.) Those who see Lee’s work and are confused as to its meaning must momentarily let go of Western narrative painting preconceptions. “Abstract art can be difficult for some viewers to understand,” said Lee. “But the abstract is the only way I can express my work.”
So get up close — real close — and relish how the paint rests lightly atop the goose pimples of the canvas one moment then rises, thickly and energetically the next. Stand back — far back — and drink in the design and its deceptive sense of randomness and the impact of nuance.
Finally, at the risk of sounding maudlin, it somehow feels right that as Utah has recently lost a noted abstract expressionist with the passing of Lee Deffebach, it has gained another. One Lee has left, another has arrived. Perhaps there is a Tao balance after all.
Painting without Restraint: “Hyunmee Lee reveals herself through deceptively simple art,” by Brandon Griggs, The Salt Lake Tribune (March 11 2006)
When Gesture Finds Its Power exhibit at Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, Logan, Utah.
Published to commemorate twenty years of Lee’s artwork.
Forty page full-color brochure
Mountain Armatures exhibit at Woodbury Gallery, Orem, Utah.
Essay by Kim, Bok Young (Art Critic/ Professor, Hong-Ik University, Seoul)
Twenty-four page full-color brochure