Sound is made visible as subtle energy in Hyunmee Lee’s deceptively simple paintings. A cross pollination of traditions, combining eastern calligraphy with western gestural abstraction- Lee is grounded in the mid 20th century, yet transcends categorization in time. Glyph like forms in rich browns and dense black bring to mind the work of Franz Klein, Robert Motherwell and Cy Twombly. For her, the repetitive action of forming letters becomes a meditation. Using natural gestures to create a breathing spaciousness- open ended expanses filled with light and airy freshness, Lee shares her pleasure in the process of deconstructing calligraphic form.
The series titled Native Mumbling refers to “consonants and vowels from the Korean alphabet…” A B C sounds with no intrinsic meaning. She defines mumbling as a gesture – by both saying and writing the letters, Sounds bring me energy … repeating and erasing chants in my work brings forth a lightness. Arriving at this lightness brings happiness and peace.
Lee limits her palette to earth tones and a variety of sun lit yellows, a luminescent scrim of silk- against a creamy field. Black signifies happiness and lightness rather than darkness and heaviness and indicates the presence of light rather than it’s absence, so that large areas of black become windows into another dimension.
Orderly yet relaxed, the paintings never feel over worked, and retain the immediate directness of drawing, as delicate and searching marks float across a surface layered with Korean rice paper. Subtle and architectural, her compositions recall Lao Tzu’s verse; Cut out doors and windows in order to make a room. Adapt the nothing therein to the purpose in hand, and you will have use of the room.
Lee claims Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism as the foundations of her work and life … speaking the sounds Ma Ba Sa has opened her to a new awareness of Korean shamanism, the strength of a self in quietness, a deeply meditative ritual that brings an awakening of magical power.
A native of South Korea , Hyunmee Lee earned art degrees in Seoul and in Sydney , Australia . She has been in America for fourteen years and currently lives in Salt Lake City Utah . There, Lee achieved a tenure as an art Professor, and had solo exhibitions in Utah Museum of Fine Arts in 2006 and Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art in 2004. She has exhibited widely and written about extensively, her continuing Native mumbling series will be exhibited at the Nüart Gallery in Santa Fe in July.