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ARTIST ROOM |LEE SEA HYUN

ARTIST LEE SEA HYUN

Korean

A Red Face and a Blue Hear,
Artist Lee Sea Hyun

It was evidently fall. The fall scenery on the way to artist Lee Sea Hyun's studio located in Paju was colorful. The road was overflowing with vivid red leaves holding on tight right before they were ready to fall off to the ground. Spiritual memories are so strong. The flaming red leaves naturally reminded me of Lee Sea Hyun's painting of red landscapes. Lee Sea Hyun's artwork is filled with clear red lights. Therefore it is memorable. And so was 2011 Venice Biennale satellite exhibition. As soon as I saw Lee's work among many other art pieces, my intuition told me the landscape represented Korea; the redness symbolized the tragedy of the Korean society. Since then, I have never been disappointed at his work. Lee Sea Hyun's presence is so strong as if his name were highlighted. I began to appreciate his artwork not with my head but with my heart, so captivating that it touched my heart deeply.


"I have been asked several times if I am a commie. I started the series when I was studying abroad in England. When I returned to Korea, people were puzzled by the redness and questioned and the political meaning of my work. From their reactions, I knew that Korea still had prejudice against anything colored in red. And many, still blinded by their own thoughts, have a narrow view of the world," said Lee as he was sitting on his couch and sipping on coffee. The series was conceived when he went to study abroad in his late thirties. The inspiration came from his experience while serving the military and he was stationed to monitor the DMZ with night vision scopes (which turned everything red). The artist portrayed the deceit of a beautiful landscape that is endlessly watched and on guard. The crimson landscape represents the beautiful scenery of Korea, however, the artwork expresses anger and disappointment through the careless development of city planning that destroyed the original panorama. "I call this social landscape. From the surface it looks like utopia but in reality it portrays a paradox, a dystopia triggered by human destruction."


Lee Sea Hyun expressed agony against recent atrocious disasters and current affairs. Not only was he shocked to be on the "artist blacklist" but also he was heartbroken from repeated controversies. Therefore he focused solely on his work. "Before I used to think that paintings DMZ and ocean landscapes were enough. However, with recent issues such as the Sewol disaster and political corruption, I had the urge to illustrate the catastrophic stories behind the landscapes. The paintings from 'Red-false dreams' exhibition was the first time people appeared on my landscape paintings," said Lee as he was pointing at the picture behind the sofa. If you carefully look at his landscape painting, the detailed memories are drawn like still-life. Destroyed buildings, remnants of bombs, the painful recollection of Korean history, memories of his mom who passed away, childhood portraits of him and his brother are all expressed in his work. In real life they are all past events beyond our reach. However, in our memories they are ongoing images. Lee continued to talk about dreams that seem real and the reality that seem like illusions. "Not only did I draw characters from pictures that I own but I also drew people that I found through the internet. Do you see this person here? This is Hitler when he was a child. This is former president Noh Muhyun and former US president Obama. There is even singer IU over here. They are different people now. Can you find any current traits of these people in their innocent portraits of the past?"


As an artist, Lee never stops asking questions. Through the red paintings Lee Sea Hyun asks sharp and witty questions. When you meet artist Lee Sea Hyun in person you can feel his persona. Like his red paintings, he was memorable. He knows how an artist should evolve in midst of reality. He opened a gallery next to the studio and he also plans to expand his working space. These are all steps to adapt to reality. Lee dreaming of a utopia where artists can voice their thoughts said, "It is relatively a large space but since I am working on different pieces the space feels quite cramped. I plan to expand the space to categorize my past and current works. Some ask why I only work with red colors. For me it is important to work on a piece for a long time. It is all part of growing slowly and transforming naturally."



"I call this social landscape. From the surface it looks like utopia but in reality it portrays a paradox, a dystopia triggered by human destruction."

The studio is larger than I had anticipated. I expected the space to be full of red colors, but I see diverse items.

The former Paju studio (located 15 minutes away) had limited space. The space only allowed me to work on my art. However, this place is divided into several compartments; a meeting room, a space for my work and "RAW GALLERY" for exhibitions. If I use the building next door as the warehouse, I would like to use the spacious outdoor area in between the two buildings as well. For me, my studio at times is a personal cave but is also a space where I interact with people. My dad was a traditional Korean nacre cabinet maker. Longing for that memory, I went to Hwanghakdong to buy a nacre cabinet. I began to collect Korean objects after I returned from London. But I had always loved Korean antique items. I have more antique pieces at home than my studio. It is true that I utilize a lot of red in my work. It was 2007, where I began to incorporate red in my 'Between Red' series. Recently, I have started to use blue and I have also done some installations. However, my most prominent work is related to the color red.

After listening to your story I see a lot of red. Even your socks are red!

There is no specific reason why I like red. But if I have to give an answer, it is because red left a deep impression on me when I was a child. I also like the impact of the color red on bujeok (Korean talisman with red writing on paper) and red inkpads. Also, I started to purchase more red objects after I began working on the red series. My phone case and sneakers are red. The older I get more red objects I own. Wherever I go, red item catches my attention. If I see a woman wearing red she surely is more noticeable. Now that you mention it, I do own many red objects. (laughs)



To work on a piece with so much detail you must work on it every day. How is your everyday schedule like?

I wake up around 8 in the morning, head over to the gym around 9:30 and arrive at the studio at 11:30. From then, I spend most of my time on my artwork. I am back home sometime between 9 and 11 pm. If possible I try to keep a stable schedule for my work especially to allocate my tight exhibition schedule. Even right before this interview I was working on my art.

In order to become an artist, you chose to study abroad at a late age. Was there a special occasion that triggered you to do so?

I was lecturer at an art high school. But I wanted to draw my own pictures. I had urge to become an artist. I made the decision to study abroad when I was in my late 30's. Everyone around me was persuading me not to go. I couldn't even speak English. People were asking why I chose to walk the difficult road at that age. But there was an emptiness inside me. At the time I wasn't even married. I took my house key money and simply left to London before it is too late. I also knew I wouldn't regret spending all my savings. I had depleted my account while studying fine art at Chelsea College of Arts. Just when there was barely any money left, Monique Burger approached me and expressed interest in my artwork. That piece was the red landscape painting from 'Between Red' series.The red series were popular among collectors since its beginning. Afterwards world renowned collector Uli Sigg also purchased the painting.

How was your experience studying art in London? Being a former art lecturer yourself, I imagine your experience must have been unique.

My experience was very different from that of Korea. In the UK, the most important aspect was the process of discovering why you had to create. A lot of the classes were spent discussing why my colleagues had drawn that picture, why they chose that certain idea or theme. The artist had to convince others of his/her work. The lecture consisted of discovering oneself and why the art piece was made. On the other hand, a little while ago, I lectured at a university. And surprisingly nothing had changed since I was in school. Everyone was using the same size canvas and drawing the same theme. Korean students have the tendency to underestimate themselves. They need to practice discovering their own style and assets.

How was your artwork before you left to London?

It is very different from my current works. There were many changes at the time too. During my university years, I did a lot of sculptures and installations. Afterwards, I focused on drawing. People who have only seen the red series have a hard time imagining my previous works. On the other hand, people familiar with my older work are surprised when they see my current paintings.










Landscape Paintings with a Deep Heart

That is a beautiful landscape painting. However, when looking at it closely there is an element of sadness. There is a hidden story.

All the images are either mine or ones I found on the internet. They are not merely mountains and land. They reflect my own memories and thoughts. For example my hometown Gojae Island and Bueongi Rock where former president Noh Muhyun passed away are in my work. There are people too. I usually use images that I have or childhood pictures of famous people. If the red series express the coexistence of fear and beauty from division and development or life and death, the characters are an expansion of the story that symbolizes those traits. It will bring change to the composition and technique.

What inspires you the most?

I scattered the ashes of my mother into a place where my mom has a special childhood memory. When I visited the place right before heading off to London, the place was gone due to urban development. When I visit diverse spots in Seoul, every place is different from what I remember. My memory of the place is still vivid however the change makes it seem like it no longer exists. You never know when those beautiful places will disappear. They will only remain in your memory. Diverse thoughts and contemplations about life, memories and observations are all influence my work.

You mentioned that you are plan to being installation art. Could you give us more information?

I would consider it to be more of a manifestation for my desire to be free. The possibility is always there. There isn't a particular direction but I have always had interest in duplicity of life. Beauty and sadness, good and bad, death and life. I think I will express the existence of double feelings and ideas through installations. I believe there is utopia within reality. However that reality may be either utopia or dystopia. I want to show the other side of what seems real.

What is your biggest concern as an artist?

I am interested in knowing the fundamental value that art brings to humans.












Forgotten Objects with Memories

I see many Korean items. Could you tell me more about them?

I am interested in things that are starting to disappear. I read a lot on traditional Korean items since was I a child. I also have an attachment towards objects. My interest lies on objects that were valuable to someone or objects that contains the artistic beauty from that time frame. Especially handmade items. For Korean items, I like old objects that are related to life and death, like biers.

What was your most recent purchase?

You will see a lot of my colleagues' work hung on my wall. Recently I bought a painting.

Is there a standard or a method when you buy art?

I love items that leave trace of another. I prefer items that are common and yet that are run-down over perfect products.

I would like to hear your personal opinion on art products. Jinjusikdang introduces many products created of artist collaborations. Is there a friendlier way that we can publicize artists' works?

Rather than producing a mere product, how about developing an art product that incorporates elements of life? I am also open to collaborating to create practical items with my art if it brings synergy.







I heard that you have created diverse movements with fellow artists. Was 'RAW GALLERY' next door also made for utopia?

At its conception, 'RAW GALLERY' was not made for exhibitions. It just happened naturally. The space was born from diverse artists working together, from endless thoughts and ideas shared by artists. 'RAW GALLERY' is a comfortable space, a place where artists do not have to stress over perfecting their work. It is a space where artists contemplate over the fundamental significance of exhibitions and breathe freely to express. Till early December artist Lee Snag Kwon and Choi Ho Cheol will be exhibiting their work under the theme "Picnic". The work expresses the story of artists through many eyes. Come to Paju Book City! (laughs)











Red and Blue Heart Becoming One

Do you like to cook?

When I was in London I cooked for survival. (laughs) After I got married I do not cook as often. I do at times at solo exhibitions or at gatherings in my studio. I am good at making jangtteok (soybean pancake) and doenjang jjigae (soybean paste stew).

Do you like to drink?

In the weekends, I like to have a glass of wine while watching a movie. And with friends no matter what alcohol, I always have a great time. (laughs)

What do artists talk about when they get together for drinks?

Recently I haven't had a chance to have drinks with my colleagues. Usually we criticize the problems of the Korean art industry and the 'power abuse' of art galleries.




Artist Lee Sea Hyun's Preferences

If you were given free time how would you spend it?

Travel. Would like to go a bar or a restaurant that only the locals know of. Also, I would like to see my friends.

Favorite place of travel?

Somewhere where I can enjoy nature or the hidden spots of a city.

Favorite place to eat?

'Jeju Chondaeji' in Hapjeong and 'Simaksan Sanjarak Gondre Bibimbap' and 'Mini Octopus Roast Path' near my studio.

Most recent exhibition you saw was?

My friend's and colleague's solo show.

Most embarrassing moment?

All the time. I live with humiliation.

Most confident moment?

I always give my all, therefore I cannot say there is a specific moment.





Lee Sea Hyun's Jangtteok (Soybean Pancake) Recipe

I love the jjangtteok my aunt used to make me when I was young. I was always satisfied when I ate them at her place in Tongyoung.
I think it was due to the overflowing amount of seafood she puts in them.
To bring back those memories, I use a lot of musses in my own recipe.

Ingredients

chives 200g, flour ⅔ cup, starch 1 tablespoon, water ½ cup, red pepper paste ⅔ tablespoon, 2 cheongyang peppers, mussels (as preferred), scallion for taste and little bit of cooking oil


Sauce

sugar ½ tablespoon, red pepper paste ¼ tablespoon, hint of sesame oil and red pepper flakes
Wash and chop chives in size of your preference. Set aside.


1. In a medium bowl, pour sauce and mussels. If you like them extra spicy add cheongyang peppers.

2. Add chives, flour, starch and cold water to the bowl. Mix well.

3. Add red pepper paste to the bowl and mix.

4. Heat pan and add oil. Pour mixture into four scoop and top batter with chopped chives.

5. Flip and cook till golden.

ABOUT ARTIST ROOM

JINJUSIKDANG is ready to explore through observing life style of selected artist such as what he or she wears, eats and where to live in.

Creative Director | Jinju Kang

Writer | Anna Gye

www.jinjusikdang.com

www.instagram/jinjusikdang

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