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 of European 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 her 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 Seo-bo, 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 then completely 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 Seo-bo'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.
Jim Edwards is the Curator of Exhibitions at the Salt Lake Art Center and lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Photos for this article were taken from the catalogue for the exhibition Hyunmee Lee: Intimacy Without Restraint* (which continues at the UMFA through July 9th). *Image 4 is from Phillips Gallery which is currently exhibiting works by Hyunmee Lee through April 14.
Gallery Spotlight: Elsinore, SLC, Provo
Galleries High and Low
Galleries seem to be popping up all over Utah. Some open in small rural towns with less than a thousand people, while others open in the heart of metropolitan areas where competition can be stiff. In our pages we highlight both well-established and emerging galleries, and this month we take a quick look at three of the latter category that are throwing their hats into the Utah art ring: the Staples Art Center and Gallery, Art at the Main and Gallery OneTen.
You wouldn't think a town with a little over 700 people could sustain an art gallery. Towns that size don't even have a grocery store sometimes, let alone an art gallery. And, sure, Torrey or Escalante might even be smaller than that and they have a gallery, but, poised at the entrance to National Parks, both are considered destination locations.
But Elsinore, the home of the new Staples Art Center and Gallery, isn't really a destination for anything. A few miles down the road from Richfield, it's the type of place you pass while making the long trek across I-70 to reach 1-15, or maybe traveling down highway 89 on your way to another destination location, Bryce Canyon. You hardly even notice the place, let alone think to stop there. But if you are interested in what is going on with Utah artists you might rethink that.
Central Utah may not have any National Parks, but it does have a lot of working artists, and last October, a group of them formed "ArtWorks of Sevier," a small group of local artists painting en plein air
. When one of the group inherited a small home in Elsinore, she offered it to the group as a place to display their artwork and conduct classes. The group has now grown to eighteen members and has over 160 items on display in their new gallery and art center including all media, wood carvings, wood turnings, and Native American Pottery.
The Art Center and Gallery is located at 120 South 100 East, Elsinore, Utah, 84724 and is open from 1-7 P. M. every Friday and Saturday or anytime by appointment. If you have any questions contact president LaMar Mills at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If metropolitan areas are more your thing, a couple of local artists are starting a gallery in the heart of Salt Lake, at the downtown library. Joy Nunn and Janet Bondi, sisters, artists and now business partners, have applied and been accepted to have a permanent art gallery in the shops at Salt Lake City's main public library. Art at the Main is a new non-profit corporation whose mission is to provide public access to and promote public interest in quality artwork created by emerging Utah artists who do not already have an established, ongoing venue.
Nunn and Bondi have plans to be up and running by the beginning of June so that they can take advantage of the Utah Arts Festival later that month. They are currently accepting applications for artists working in the following media: mixed media, watercolor, oil, acrylic, pastel, pen & ink, pencil, prints such as etchings, monoprints, silkscreen, lithography, hangable fiber art, small 3-D sculpture, and glasswork.
Applications and portfolios will be accepted Saturdays April 8, 15, 22 from 12 noon 4 pm at the artists' studios in Rockwood Studios. For more information, visit our call for entries at the message board.
Provo is neither a metropolitan area nor a rural town. It is a college town. Well, a University town to be precise, with a large college in nearby Orem. And many of the art venues in the area are linked to these institutions and function as part of them. Provo does have its own commercial galleries, such as Terra Nova Gallery, but what it lacks is a non-profit community art center such as one finds in Salt Lake, Bountiful or Ogden. Gallery OneTen, which recently opened in one of downtown Provo's historic buildings, aims to fill that void.
Members of the Provo art community have been eager to have a community venue of this sort and gallery director Raquel Smith Callis, who has experience running the Provo Art's Council Gallery, as well as downtown Provo's storefront gallery, jumped at the opportunity when Gallery OneTen was finally organized as a non-profit. The gallery seeks to "create enthusiasm for, understanding of, and awareness of the importance and benefit of the arts for all persons." They believe "the arts are truly a universal and essential language that challenges people to look beyond themselves" and "believe that participation in the arts promotes acceptance and inclusion in all aspects of life."
Gallery One Ten is located at 110 South 300 W, Provo, UT and is open Monday Friday 3 9 p.m. For more information contact Raquel Callis Smith at 801-623-0615 or at email@example.com
The catalogue published in conjunction with the Hyunmee Lee's current exhibtion at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts is now available as part of Artists of Utah's Spring Fund Drive. The catalogue includes a foreward by David Dee, director of the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, an introduction by exhibition curator Frank McEntire and the essay by Jim Edwards, Curator of Exhibitions at the Salt Lake Art Center, included in this edition of 15 Bytes. 23 pages. Contains over 15 color reproductions of the artistswork. Published by Taipung Publications in cooperation with the UtahMusem of Fine Arts. Click here for more info.
Also avialable during Artists of Utah's fundaraiser
, When Gesture Finds its Power
is an examination of paintings by Hyunmee Lee from 1986 - 2005.
to contribute and receive your complimentary copy.