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In contemporary art, with its guaranteed unfettered freedom, it seems that the order of Neoclassical expression, the world of David or Ingres, will continue to wither away. This is not to say that grace has completely abandon of artistic thought makes it now more difficult to perceive.
Perhaps for this reason, when we attempt to depict divinity our understanding is often limited to use of motifs we are familiar with from the bible, such as halos.
Lee Yeunmi’s artworks to not depict the frank image of Jesus on the cross, yet their core message are profoundly Christian. These works do not take after Western sacred painting, nor are they images of a personal spiritual joy, filled with subjective fascination. Using the device of the ‘garden’, Lee has added her imagination to her own faith, creating a highly original form of Christian art. In longing and yearning for the perfection of Eden, Which existed before the fall of man, she has been able to create a new world within her artworks. Yet for those of us who want to powerful elements which in reality do not exist; rather than the mundane sense of comfort in common idea of ‘paradise’, here we are roused even more by a baffling and solitary imagination.
Stylistically, Lee’s artworks are flat picture planes that display the utmost restraint of tone, formed by her characteristic use of distinct pastel hues. Apparently these techniques have been greatly influenced by Japanese ukiy-e prints and animation. Above all, Lee’s expressive style and sensibility has been influenced by the animated works of Miyazaki Hayao, which she adored as child-particularly his depiction of forests to point that they at first appear vey similar. However, it seems more correct to say that her work draws on Miyazaki’s sense of colour, rather than his films’ philosophies.
A simple glance at Lee’s works and their titles does not allow the artist’s intentions nor the substance of her work to be readily grasped; a real understanding of her work could be a process of many hours. The works themselves- a sense of estrangement in their imaginatively painted multicoloured gardens, where good and evil mix-are more than enough to appeal to the viewer. It is, perhaps, not a simple task to divert one’s usual gaze, putting aside such likes and dislikes. Might this be because the distinction between form and content is being concretely expressed?
In terms of content, there exists a sense of moral cause as one finds in ideological and similar in religious art; whereas in form there is a use of colour proven to have popular appeal, as one finds in mass-produced art. Of course, this is harks from the premise of the artist’s astounding creativity. In this sense, at a relatively young age compared to other artists, Lee has already overcome any sense of angst toward her work. That being the case, perhaps she has faithfully applied her god-given talents to accomplish these works. In future, is it merely a question of enthusiastically applying herself?
In Korea, unlike Japan, there are a large number of Christians. There are many Christian artists as well; yet while fully expressing their individually, they are sometimes cautious in expressing a sense of anguish in the orientation of their work. This is because it is difficult to hold one’s work up for verification against God’s objective measure. As such, some artist hesitate as to whether they should absorb such anguish directly in their work, or present such anguish as anguish, externally and publicly. This may be because for young artists intent on elevating their personal ‘brand’ selfless religious painting, and the like, appears uncool and old-fashioned. As artists it must not seem like a very profitable enterprise. Ultimately I’m not sure what the situation is, but it must not be an easy thing for young artists to ‘come out’ about their Christianity through contemporary art.
Can god-given talent and an artist’s individuality really achieve a perfect harmony? The bible says people were made in the image of god; as such, granted such vitality, what sort of creative activity should Christian artists undertake nowadays? When they make art, to what point is it the province of self, to what point that the divine? Only, there is the shameful trap whereby to extent they strongly proclaim their individuality, so do they obstruct God… Yet, therefore, if they do not display their particular attributes their raison d’être as creators is threatened. Well then, does extreme imagination simply give rise to another kind of image loathed by God? For artists who are conscious of God’s existence, there is certainly this difficulty of not being able to overlook it.
Today’s contemporary art has become the site for an age –old competition between motivation and invention. As such, despite an ever growing mass of startling things, those which move the spirit, with a refined sensibility and unique ideas, are very scarce. Even if shouts of surprise and shock can be heard in the exhibition space, beyond that it is difficult to expect deeper emotion or tears. If one approaches Lee’s work with religious theme in mind, there is every reason to count on the sincerity of her art. If one does not seek the “boasting contests” of other contemporary art works, but rather the ‘emotion’ above that, then the true intent of these works can be reached.
Perhaps Lee Yeunmi can become an artist the likes of Michelangelo or Rembrandt, whose emotional spirit lingers across the march of time. Since very early on has great art not given us a considerable foretaste of paradise? Regardless of how eye-catching certain works may be, the chance to encounter truly moving artworks is not easy to come by. Indeed, as a real artist this must be a dream one pursues to the end of one’s days. I wish to praise the courage of an artist who unashamedly ‘confessions’ the true nature of their artistic world. No doubt in future we may expect something that transgresses the already surprising talent evident in Lee Yeunmi’s artwork.

By Kang Chull / Visual image messenger

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