Il Lee and The Line of Duration

10 Jul

“Il Lee and The Line of Duration” Gallery Hyundai

Il Lee was born in Seoul, Korea in 1952. He fist received his B.F.A in painting at Hong-Ik University in Korea and later attended the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York where he received his M.F.A. During his time at the Pratt Institute in the late 70’s Lee was fascinated by the process and the delicate linear expressions of etching, a process of printmaking which requires one to finely etch the surface of a printing plate. After a period of experimentation inspired by etching, Lee settled on the ballpoint pen as his primary method of visual communication due to the tool’s ability to “produce a continuous line of long duration”. Lee translates a traditional method into non-traditional work which straddles the border of drawing and painting. Lee has gained critical acclaim throughout the years and in 2011 four of his works were acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Lee’s exhibition in Gallery Hyundai titled “Il Lee and The Line of Duration” is the artist’s first solo exhibition in Korea since 1996.

Il Lee, BL-119, ballpoint pen on canvas, 2009, 190.5×297.2

When I entered Gallery Hyundai I felt like I had walked into a very meditative space. Gentle classical music played in the warmly lit gallery as I started view the exhibition. The atmosphere reflected Il Lee’s meditative works which have a richness of dichotomies (defined/undefined, mass/individual, movement/stillness, rigidity/fluidity). At first glance the work on the canvas appears to be one substantial and unifying mass, but as one views the artist’s work from a closer distance he or she will see that the work is made from one delicate line made by a tool which normally is not used to make marks on a large surface usually used with paints and brushes. I felt like this aspect of the work was especially apparent in BL-119 which is the result of one fluid, collective, and active mark to create a mass with great depth and movement. I was enraptured by the fact that such a simple and to us a mindless mark made by the most ordinary tool could create such a result, but I was very upset about the fact that I could not take any photographs (once again…) of the great amount of close-up details.

Il Lee, TIRW-201, acrylic and oil on canvas, 2012, 208.3×276.9

Part of the basement exhibition space and most of the second floor is devoted to Lee’s newest series of work. He still uses the method of  etching with non-traditional tools on canvas but he etches into oil paint to reveal the layer of acrylic paint underneath. There are several small paintings in this collection that have different qualities from most of Lee’s work. These works are made by raking straight lines into the surface with a bamboo stick. In these particular works the viewer can see which line was made after or before another since the lines leave visual traces of Lee’s orchestrated movements. The direct evidence of this layering process is less evident in the larger works of oil and acrylic paint in which an empty ballpoint pen is used to etch lines onto the canvas. One such work is TIRW-201 where a multitude of masses made from fluid lines are revealed through etching the topmost layer of paint.For me there is a particular beauty in the permanence of the line, the process repetition which leads to something wholly organic with a demanding presence, and the creation of unique work from the use of a mundane tool in an ordinary way.

Even though many think that Lee’s work is planned, the artist stated at a press conference featured on The Korea Times that  “Instead of thinking too much before drawing, I rather face the canvas and feel it. It’s like more being intuitive.” I found this statement especially fascinating since working purely from intuition can often times lead to aesthetically unpleasing work, yet all of Lee’s pieces in the exhibition have a rare, organic rawness which is full of beauty and depth. The actions Lee goes through to produce his work can be referred to as tribal unconsciousness and action art. Lee’s homecoming exhibition is on view at Gallery Hyundai until July 15th.

*Background information on Il Lee and his works are provided by the Gallery Hyundai website and exhibition leaflet.

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