[Korean Artists of Note] Lee Hee-joon “constructs” a painting with layers of color

[Korean Artists of Note] Lee Hee-joon “constructs” a painting with layers of color

The painting begins and ends with materials that evoke different feelings in viewers,” says Lee.

Lee Hee-joon poses for photos on July 20 at the Seoul Art Space Geumcheon in Seoul. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)

This is the second in a six-part series highlighting the next generation of Korean artists active on the international art scene. – Ed

At a glance, Lee Hee-joon’s workshop resembles that of an architect or carpenter, with paints and equipment likely to be used on construction sites scattered throughout space. Since the beginning of this year, Lee has been working at Seoul Art Space Geumcheon in northern Seoul as part of a residency program.

Lee’s recent series, “Image Architect,” sits on easels or leaning against the wall in the studio, and the floor is strewn with paints and a long squeegee made of foam boards he himself even assembled. He began exploring the photo-collage painting series last year, expanding on his first series, “A Shape of Taste.”

Born in Seoul, the 34-year-old painter has witnessed how quickly the city’s buildings and landscape have changed over time. Such changes have stood out, especially in the neighborhood around Hongik University, his alma mater, which has undergone gentrification.

“A Shape of Taste No. 37” by Lee Hee-joon (Kukje Gallery)

“New layers were constantly being added on top of the existing layers. It was interesting to find out that the original buildings were old red brick buildings,” Lee said.

Lee puts layer upon layer of different colors on a canvas using a squeegee stick he made as if he were building a space or cementing a wall. When using the squeegee, he described the thrill he felt as similar to watching a construction worker spread cement on a wall. Lee’s artistic practice is evident in the geometric forms of his first “A Shape of Taste” series.

Lee was struck by the colors of Seoul when he returned to the capital in 2014 after studying fine art at Glasgow School of Arts in the UK. He recalled living in an old neighborhood surrounded by buildings that created a calm atmosphere that contrasted sharply with the bright, vibrant colors of Seoul.

“When I arrived I found the city shimmering with lights and there were so many colorful signs on the buildings. I knew that’s what makes Seoul special. The landscape looks compact and tight, but if you look closely every building or house, you’ll see they all have their own colors. It’s interesting,” Lee said.

“The Hidden Waterfall” by Lee Hee-joon (Kukje Gallery)

Lee has expanded his artistic practice in the recent “Image Architect” series. In the series, Lee reveals the image of the architecture he photographed, painting layers of color using a squeegee and paintbrush. The colors represent layers of his emotions and thoughts as well as the atmosphere and mood of the place. A gray concrete space in his photograph contrasts with the colors he has layered, his own story breathing new life into the place.

“I had really good watermelon juice there,” Lee said of a piece in his “Image Architect” series. “I’m thinking of adding a color that represents the taste of watermelon before finishing.”

Lee said the painting made him reflect on the role it plays in an art scene in which virtual reality and NFTs continue to grow in importance.

“For me, the painting begins and ends with materials that evoke different feelings in viewers. I think the intricate mechanism created by the materials is the most appealing feature of the paintings,” Lee said.

Although it may look like a flat surface, viewers can find the unique texture of the paintings, said Sungah Serena Choo, an independent curator who curated Lee’s first solo exhibition “Inside or Outside: Prototype” in 2016 in Kigoja, Independent Arts Space Initiative, Seoul.

“If you look closely at his paintings, you might find streaks created when layering a piece of paint with a squeegee. These marks are similar to those produced when cementing on the construction sites,” Choo said.

Lee has been part of group exhibitions at Art Sonje Center in 2021 and Seoul Museum of Art and Museum SAN in 2019. Most recently, he had a solo exhibition at Kukje Gallery in Busan from July 1 to August 14. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting and Sculpture from Hongik University in 2012.

Installation view of “Heejoon Lee” at Kukje Gallery in Busan (Kukje Gallery)

By Park Yuna ([email protected])

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