Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Artistic Observations: Meeting Yim Choon Lee, A Contemporary South Korean Artist.

Last month, a friend and I attended an artist's solo art exhibition in La Jolla (San Diego), California.  I received the opportunity to meet Yim Choon Lee, a South Korean contemporary artist still gaining exposure to the world today. In the short time I spent walking around gazing at the artwork and admiring the mind of the artist, I was surprised more than once or twice.  I visited art galleries in the past, but never attended a special artist reception with the artist present.  This was a first.

[Disclaimer: I do not have a professional background in art. I am only the lay viewer of art that on rare occasion peruses a gallery with fairly complex art designs and themes.] 

As I entered the Salazaar Contemporary Gallery, the location of the exhibition in La Jolla, I found myself walking into a small crowd of art lovers, photographers, and gallery owners. It was a classy event with wine readily available to sip on to enhance your viewing experience.  I was immediately drawn to the left where I saw a blue piece of art. The piece had an open space with large sections along the side and one in the center full of intricate designs behind what appeared to be twisted pieces on the canvas.  Upon closer viewing, I found painted Chinese characters and other unique designs along the twists.

Small section of the art piece. Notice the twists and detailed paint. 

What I observed was the result of the Yim Choon Lee’s process, “Tearing Art.”  He paints both sides of a canvas.  On one side, Korean traditional papers are placed on the surface and painted over, creating a total of three surfaces. Then, the linen on one side is cut to reveal the backside. The pieces are torn and folded to create an elaborate, beautiful piece of art.

 His information page and website as quoted says:  

“Three surfaces of the painting represent the past (traditional paper surface), present (back of canvas linen), and future (front of canvas linen). In tearing art, one painting glues together past, present and future in three dimension.” 

I continued to move around the room thinking about my own past and present glued to and molding my future, as I admired each of the pieces of art. The art was amazing in all of its three-dimensional forms. This is art I could observe with multiple senses. I stepped back to see the piece and feel the presence of the work as I soaked in the colors and design. Later, I moved in closer while I envisioned (no, I did not touch) following the twisted pieces with my finger.  I imagined hearing the artist tearing and folding the pieces of linen in a studio in his home. I was enamored by the simple yet complex works - some happened to be only black and white. [You can see them on the website. Photo not posted here.] Moving towards the back of the room, I viewed more complex pieces with very vibrant shades of color.

Viewed from a different perspective. The colors move from lighter to darker on the far end.  

Eventually, I met Katherine Kim, Yim Choon Lee’s agent. She was busy making her rounds meeting other important people.  Despite being busy with potential buyers and viewers, she still stopped to speak with me. I was greeted with her bubbly nature, a gentle touch and lots of enthusiasm.  She began to take me to some of his bigger works and answer a few of my questions.  Eager to meet the artist himself, she brought me to Yim Choon Lee, where he also warmly welcomed me with a large grin as he showed off some of his art. I greeted him in Korean, though he was shy to reply and speak in English. Our brief communication was powerful nonetheless. I immediately felt comfortable and close to Yim Choon Lee and his agent, Katherine Kim.  While looking at one piece, Yim approached me with his large grin and what felt like the innocence of a proud child, motioning me to follow him. He pointed to the detailed twists of his blue painting saying, “these Chinese characters. Painted.”  It made me smile.  The artist certainly has a lot to be proud of.

Surface details. 

As I viewed the art and spoke with Katherine, I was even more surprised to learn that the artist is a police officer by day.  By night, he uncovers the artist within. He has a college education and studied in Taiwan during his younger years. Katherine proudly mentions his many talents.  Does Yim ever sleep? 

Where did this brilliant man get the time and inspiration to do his work? Yim Choon Lee, born in 1965 on Geoje Island where he still lives today, comes from several generations of Korean traditional bamboo and paper artists.  As a child, he traveled with his father throughout the beautiful countryside collecting bamboo for his father’s art. Katherine shared that his experience learning the bamboo techniques and viewing the beautiful country as a child were a large inspiration and influence for his artwork today. Observing the colors and twists, I can see many elements of bamboo and nature forming images in my head.   

My mind was baffled by his work.

I looked around some more and returned to the artist, asking him to name his favorite piece. He likes them all, but points to the Black Hole piece and names the Black Hole series [four paintings] his favorite.  As seen on the artist statement of “Destruction and Creation,” Yim creates new art by destroying the canvas. New social norms are created by changing the old social idioms.  He beautifully bridges the gap from traditional to more contemporary art. 

            “Black Hole series portrays the human heart’s desire to express itself independently from  societal references. As a policeman in Korea, I have seen life and death circumstances which could have evolved differently. If these victims were allowed to express their feelings of frustration and overwhelming circumstances, they would not need to end their precious life.”- from the Artist Statement Page.

Black Hole (1 in the series of four pieces)

Many people can identify with this art.  The human heart in all its complexity desires to be known and expressed in some form.  Take a peek at the art yourself and enjoy the “awe” moment as you let the art help you dive deep into your own soul. What feelings and emotions stir in you?  As I think about my internship year in San Diego soon drawing to a close, I begin to process the past and present as I prepare for the future.  

So, what if you decide you want to see the art? Where can you catch some of Yim Choon Lee’s work?  You can view his art at his coming exhibition in Seoul, South Korea in September.  After observation, I presume you will be interested in meeting the artist and seeing it up close yourself.  Yim is still a newer artist and has only held exhibitions in Istanbul, Florida, and South Korea. Feel free to spread the word about his work and check out his next exhibition. You won't regret it.

You will find the exhibit in the Insadong region of Seoul. Insadong is known for its cute shops, art, craftsmen, traditional goods, and souvenirs. It has a traditional feel enjoyed by both native Koreans and foreigners. The art lover is sure to find him or herself in Insadong on trip to Seoul.  Subway stations near Insadong are Jonggak Station (Line 1), Jongno 3-ga Station (Line 1, Line 3, Line 5), and Anguk Station also serviced by Line 3. 

You also have a few weeks left to view it in San Diego. The exhibition gained so much attention and interest that the gallery extended the exhibition through August. If you're in San Diego or La Jolla, please stop by and take a look.  You can see it at: 

Salazar Fine-Art Gallery
1162 Prospect
La Jolla, CA 92037
(858) 551 - 8453

Find Yim Choon Lee’s page on Facebook and check out his website

Here are the friendly faces!    

The artist: Yim Choon Lee, The Business Manger/Agent: Katherine Kim

Thank you for sharing your art and introducing yourself to us, Yim. Katherine, thank you for playing a large part in sharing Yim's "Tearing Art" with the world.  You have opened my eyes to a new world of art.  


    including the Artist's Statement
Lee's Agent: Katherine Kim. 

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