One’s immediate impression of Lee’s work is of an automatic drawing brought to life. Developed by the surrealists, automatic or spontaneous drawing was practiced as a means of expressing the subconscious.
Unlike automatic drawing, however, Lee’s photographs display an exquisite sense of control over his subject matter.
Carefully set-up in studio, Lee creates these elaborate, surreal scenes using analogue photography and darkroom techniques. Treating light in much the same way as a painter administers oils to the canvas, there is a sombre elegance to his composition, a delicate balance between his chosen subject matter.
The graphic shapes or cut-outs in Lee’s image, “Ein kleines Nachtphoto No.1”, are reminiscent of Matisse, and take on a similar quality to the famous Fauvist’s paper collages – various components, seemingly drawn at random, layered one on top of another. The shadows cast by the objects in Lee’s stilllife-like composition emphasise this cut-andpaste effect, bringing with them the defining characteristic of photography: depth of field.
The eye is a recurring motif in Lee’s work, and it is as kooky as it is unsettling. The crazed eyeball, lids peeled back, reminds us of photographs of the master of surrealism himself – Salvador Dali. The disembodied eyes – each distorted by the convex surface of a glass fishbowl – recall the scene from Luis Buñuel and Dali’s shocking cinematic short, “Un Chien Andalou”: A woman, lid widened by a man’s hand, appears to have her eyeball sliced open by a straight razor, gelatinous goo oozing forth. Yuck, and whew!
Each object in a seemingly precarious relationship with the other…
There is a similar sense of tension and relief in Lee’s work; each object in a seemingly precarious relationship with the other, cardboard cutouts held together with tape, suspended in the air. Simultaneously, the monochrome palette is a soothing analgesic, the careful arrangement of shapes allows our gaze to roam freely around the image, finding satisfaction in the solid, geometric forms.
Born in Seoul, Korea, and a graduate from the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town, in South Africa, Lee cites a wide variety of influences. From Western classical music, surrealism, and postmodernism to contemporary art from Africa; from philosophy and Russian literature to modern fiction, his inspiration is hybrid and heterogeneous (much like the artist himself). As such, the fascinating synchronicity of his compositions possesses a broad appeal, exploring the diverse tensions between belief and subjectivity, memory and oblivion.
An article by Fay Janet Jackson
Featured image : Kyu Sang Lee, Kleines Nachphoto N°1, 2018. Archival print on Hahnemuhle Baryta. 12 x 15 cm. Courtesy Kyu Sang Lee and Eclectica Contemporary.
This article was written for The Art Momentum | AKAA Paris Artpaper. [French version inside]
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