Search by

All artists have their own world. Commonly referred to as the artist’s ‘art world’, it shows the life the artist has lived, the way his work has come to life, and the stories that can only be told by the artist. The audience comes to understand an artist’s work and the artist himself through looking into the art world of the artist. A mid-career artist in his 40s usually has a definite art world of his own, and even if it isn’t definite, it is naturally formed by other factors. Artist Jinyong Lee has his own art world. However, Lee’s art world goes beyond the definition of the ordinary sense of the term, and it differentiates itself from that of the other long-term artists by encompassing all of the thoughts and material that form his whole world. His art world is only one element of his worlds, and it is also the window through which Lee looks out at the rest of the world.

Lee’s work is a representation of people and objects. The method of representation has existed since the beginning of Art History, but Lee takes the process of representation further by filling the space of the canvas with details with a tiny point brush in a hyper-realistic manner. What constitutes as his subject, are old collected objects and great historical figures.
English word ‘Art’ derives from Latin word ‘Ars’, which comes from the Ancient Greek word ‘Techne’. ‘Techne’ is translated into ‘Art’ in Korean language, and it expresses the art world in the Ancient Greece where art and technology were not disassociated. The relationship between Art and object wasn’t the most important in the ancient concept of Art; rather, it had to do with the act of producing the object, especially in the ability of how well one produced it. Great art was judged by the technical abilities of the artist and not by the work itself. In this ancient sense of art, Lee’s work shows technical capabilities that cannot easily be surpassed. When vis-à-vis with his work, it’s difficult to tell apart his representation of the object from a photograph of it. This realistic rendering is closely related with the concept of ‘mimesis’, which is a focus on the representation or the imitation of the real. Ancient Greek philosophers Platon and Aristotles believed that imitation is art’s fundamental purpose. Aristotles in particular persisted on the idea that art imitates reality, and imitation in this case didn’t mean a faithful reproduction of the reality itself, but rather a liberal approach to it. What he meant precisely, was that an artist can depict reality in his very own ways . Lee’s work is a representation and imitation of the reality, but he looks at his subject through the perspective of his own world.
What is important here is the subject that Lee depicts in his paintings. Moving beyond the simple sense of representation, he expresses his objects through the penetration of his own world. The objects are what he has collected through decades of travelling. In his studio, one can find books, watches, bags, a typewriter, phonograph and other interesting enough collection of items to call his studio a personal museum. Lee has always liked old objects and began collecting them, but his collection is not just a simple collection, but a product of a personality driven by intellect of an expert. Lee has always been inspired by the first models of human inventions such as the first camera, typewriter, watch, etc, and by introducing them as the subject in his art, his wish is to share his gratitude with the inventors of the objects.

There is a difference between collecting antiques and using them as a subject for art. An antique has its worth in its own existence, but when it is turned into a work of art in painting, one starts to ask questions about its meaning and ways of reading the work. An antique can re-invent a memory of the past, and give a momentary break from reality. However, when one transforms this into a flat image, its function and meanings can change as well.
An image is often understood as an emotional content expressed in detail through a material subject. However, a man-made image cannot exist if the object it portrays isn’t presupposed of its creator’s mental and psychological existence. For an image to exist, it has to be created through our own senses . The senses here are the human being’s five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch, and sight is the most direct and innate of the senses used in the process of representation. Lee doesn’t consciously plan ahead when he draws, and he develops his work by letting himself go of the control and getting carried away by the work. What he depicts on his canvas are precious scenes of the everyday that consequently manifest themselves into a detailed mimicry, but the process is carried through the unconscious mind like the Surrealist’s practice of Automatism. Freud stated that a human mind is composed of images, and our expression of images isn’t directed only by the conscious mind, but by the unconscious mind as well. The artists’ psychological condition is intuitively reflected in Lee’s work, and what is more reflected and apparent in his work is his own world and its contained meanings rather than the represented subject itself.
Lee’s conversations with the old objects that surround him take him back in time. These objects are like tunnels that link the everyday reality with the past, and the artist chooses them to depict his own world. Reflecting the world that the artist himself sees, feels and experiences, onto his art, must certainly be an act that reveals his own existence, because the representation of the material that Lee chooses, is not only a method he has chosen as an artist, but is also the reality of the World in which he lives, sees and feels, and this reality is one of the many aspects of his World.

The materialization process of Lee’s work plays an important role in understanding the relationship between the artist’s World and his work. Lee’s process of transforming the object into a representation on canvas actually requires a tremendous amount of laborious work. Undertaking himself the laborious work that is usually done by the technicians in contemporary art practice, Lee fills up the huge canvas with a tiny brush, meaningfully redefining the power of handwork and the values of art to his awe-struck audience.
Lee’s history of drawing dates back to his childhood. Lee started drawing by chance, and started to put in effort since grade 8 when his ardent wish was to become the best artist in the world. The effort was extremely demanding for a 15-year-old to hold onto; he rigorously disciplined himself by memorizing all the great masterpieces in art history by innumerably looking at them and mimicking them. Because he excelled at drawing, there was no one to compete or compare with him. He decided to put away his talent in drawing and painting, and revert to it when he needed it the most. In the meantime, he began to develop his artistic career by working with a variety of different medium. His solo exhibition at Arario Gallery shows his paintings that he have not created since his 22 years of age.
His drawings were unrivaled; nonetheless his effort never dried out. He completed his projects one by one, with patience and perseverance, continuously working with a heavy air of seriousness. His awe-inspiring labor is clearly evident in his grand-scale work The Nature in My Drawer (2007-2008), a painting of over a thousand drawers. In the painting, there are shelves with books about historical figures that inspired him, and in each drawer are images of people, book-related text and image and other objects fossilized in resin. It’s hard to believe the amount of labor and the time that went into producing this one painting, but along with the scale of the work, the each and individual detail of all the drawers in this large-scale painting overwhelms the viewer. This work probably could not have been completed with just will power alone.
Lee’s work echoes the traditional concept of art in the sense of it being the product of a representation method drenched in laborious handwork. His work transforms the present art practice into the ancient one, declaring the value of the gifted hands of the disciplined artist that cannot easily be surpassed. The energy that gives Lee the strength for his repetitively strenuous work done on large canvases stems from ambiguous longing and anticipation. His energy comes from being able to radiate his sentimental values in the objects that he depicts, and to return to the past to converse with Michelangelo, Marcel Duchamp, Gustav Klimt and so many others about the impression they had on Lee. The long hours of working on highly intense painting in hyperrealism style requires high level of concentration and minimal sleep, causing deterioration of vision and health. Despite all this, Lee works on his art with a body that functions mechanically like a clock because his excitement for the subject of his painting which can hardly be contained, lessens his fatigue.
Not only is it the addictive personality that allows him to complete such laborious work, but it’s also his infinite attachment to the objects that he represents, and his persistent inner control. The artist stated, “Persistence is attained not by will, but by one’s innermost strength.” and he has been nurturing his endurance ever since he started drawing in his teens, until today. Lee has been consciously trying to empty his mind and heart to achieve his goals, and has been disciplining himself in mind and body to live as an artist. The relentless labor and the decades of discipline, traces the age-old value of art that had long been lost in the contemporary art world. The long endeavor and discipline for one’s work are the essentially core values and mentality of art.

Thus all converge into one. We find in Lee’s work, the ancient means of ‘representation’, the old objects, the laborious handiwork and the disciplined mind. When one looks at the 6 meter painting of a travel bag, it doesn’t just portray a travel bug, but holds the weight of hundreds of years of history of the bag, the stories the bag has passed from the time of the past to now, the artist’s sentimental feelings for the subject, and his labor, disciplined will and patience. This is why we must look beyond the surface of his work, into the other side of the canvas that contains Lee’s psychological space. His long-term trained will, his philosophy of life and his everyday life that is closely related to the subject of his art all appear in his work, and his work is actually a look into his own world. The work created in Lee’s everyday life, so rigorously focused on the routines of an artist, reveals his existence, and that reveals a side of this world.
Through art, an artist’s history and thoughts eventually materialize in a physical form. Paintings and sculpture are tactile material that can be felt and possessed. The theoreticians in the past tried to get to the nature of art by dividing it dichotomically in a practice of psychology, and believed that a work lacking the intellectual content is not real art. The assumption that art is weightless because it is nothing but material, is conquered by Lee through his art practice, chosen subject matter and his will power. Although Lee’s work is physical, the process of the work coming into being itself brings the values that are rare in contemporary art practice. That is why his art world goes beyond his work, to portraying all of his psychological and physical worlds.
By Jeeah Choi / Curator at Arario Gallery
Quick Page Up