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Lee Bul's rare paintings, silk collage works unveiled in Seoul

Best known for her installation series, Lee’s first gallery exhibition in Seoul in six years showcases new painting series completed this year

An installation view of Lee Bul's solo exhibition at BB&M in Seoul (BB&M)
An installation view of Lee Bul's solo exhibition at BB&M in Seoul (BB&M)
While Lee Bul is globally known for her installations best represented by the Cyborg and Anagram series, the mixed media paintings that she has been pursuing on the side are relatively unknown.

Referring to the pieces as being between sculpture and painting, they are an extension of her sculpture work.

Lee’s newly created Perdu series painted with acrylic, ground stones and mother-of pearl were repeatedly layered using a brush and then scrubbed to create a sculpture-like texture. Lee did not actively use colors for sculptures and her selection of pink colors at the inaugural show at BB&M, a new contemporary art gallery in Seongbuk-gu, Seoul, took people by surprise.

Lee was attracted to pink colors during the pandemic. While COVID-19 forced her to spend more time indoors, pink cherry blossoms and plum blossoms came into sight last spring, which attracted her to those colors, Lee said.

“I thought at the time -- why don’t I use pink colors? Sometimes artists’ palettes are affected by the season,” Lee said during the press conference on Thursday at the gallery. 

Lee Bul shows her painting series during the press conference of her solo exhibition on Thusrday at BB&M in Seoul (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)
Lee Bul shows her painting series during the press conference of her solo exhibition on Thusrday at BB&M in Seoul (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)
Lee Bul shows her painting series during the press conference of her solo exhibition on Thusrday at BB&M in Seoul (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)
Lee Bul shows her painting series during the press conference of her solo exhibition on Thusrday at BB&M in Seoul (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)
The paintings are closely related to Lee’s Cyborg and Anagram sculpture series. While she does drawings before realizing her sculptures, she also wanted to see how they would turn out when they are expressed on a flat surface.

“It is not important whether they are sculptures or paintings, but how I develop my ideas freely,” she said. “When it comes to paintings, sometimes it is painful because the canvas is an infinite space, which is different from sculptures that require deliberation and cause frustration at the planning stage. But paintings made me feel those agonies with each step. Sometimes I had to ask myself, ‘Wait a moment, where am I’?

“So I jokingly say I never complete works but that there are only moments when I stop painting,” she said.

The second part of the exhibition consists of works from the “Willing to be Vulnerable-Velvet” series -– collage works of mother-of-pearls, velvet and silk -- that she completed this year. The series was inspired by her massive installation work “Aubade V” made with salvaged metal of dismantled guard posts in the Korean Demilitarized Zone.

Lee started working on the collage series six or seven years ago, which is so labor-intensive that she can produce only one or two large-scale pieces a year. The series has been shown in overseas exhibitions along with her installation works after they were first unveiled in New York. The BB&M show is the first time that these works are being shown at the same time in Korea.

“Because I have mainly presented installation works, especially for major exhibitions, there has been less focus on the paintings,” Lee said. “I wanted to gather all the paintings together so that they are not forgotten. Artists demonstrate themselves through exhibitions.”

Lee attempts different types of works simultaneously. She gives variations to her works to find a balance in her art world and see if she is headed in the right direction as an artist, she said. Continuing to evolve from performances, installations, collages to paintings, she will keep exploring images and materials, but can’t imagine how far she can go.

“Well, there was a time when I knew what types of works I would do within the boundary that I had in my mind. But now, I am not sure. Life goes differently from the way I expect, and I have a desire to head for somewhere beyond my imagination,” she said.

After graduating from Hongik University in 1987, Lee has experimented with soft materials such as fabric, light fiberfill, and synthetic hair and also organized performances challenging social norms, including “Abortion” in 1989. She later created the Cyborg series (1997-2011) and Anagram series (1999-2006). 

An installation view of Lee Bul’s solo exhibition at BB&M in Seoul (BB&M)
An installation view of Lee Bul’s solo exhibition at BB&M in Seoul (BB&M)
A retrospective focusing on Lee‘s artistic career since the 1990s is expected to be held early 2023 in South Korea, which will then travel to the US, Europe and Asia,

The exhibition at BB&M runs through Nov. 27.

By Park Yuna (yunapark@heraldcorp.com)
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