BY CLAIRE EMIKO FANT
For his first solo show in the United States, Korean artist Jun Kyu Lee has created paintings that explore the subconscious as it relates to his experience of separation from the familiar and the self-reflection that ensues. Entitled “The Border of Reality and Illusion,” Lee seeks to define the truth that is embedded in the illusions created by humans and human society. Inspired by the European Surrealists and Ren» Magritte in particular, the paintings are imbued with a quiet otherworldliness.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Hongik University in Seoul, Lee traveled to the Unites States to further his development as a painter. Living here found him struggling with the isolation from the easy participation in the greater society, created by the language barrier — the perfect time to utilize the tools of Surrealism to explore and express the psychological states he was experiencing.
Dark, brush-textured monochromatic backgrounds set the subconscious stage, while Rembrandt-like lighting focuses attention on the predicament of everyman, represented by Lee’s finely crafted portrayal of a wooden human figure model — the kind used by artists as a reference for accurately portraying the human figure in different positions.
In “The Creation of Adam in 2006,” Lee’s faceless human protagonist lies limply in a red antique candy/toy dispenser tray. Embryonic forms encased in plastic toy containers inside the bubble glass of the dispenser await their turn at life. The gaiety of the bright red color and antique metal embellishments of the dispenser enhance the disturbing contrast with the limp figure cradled in the tray.
In many of the paintings, an empty, plain wood box sits on its side like a diorama. A wooden human figure is placed inside and postured to express a particular feeling, be it wonder, reticence, uncertainty or letting go. According to Lee, the wood box symbolizes our immediate man-made environment t — those things we construct to protect ourselves, to live in, to play with, to create a life for ourselves. Rectangular buildings house us, boxes and drawers contain the possessions which we use to express our identities. Our families and culture also define who we are. Yet these same societal constructs can also serve as barriers to self-realization, which requires the act of leaving to take risks and venture into the unknown — always a scary proposition.
The wall used as a backdrop lends a claustrophobic feel to some of Lee’s portrayals of subconscious states, as if to say that not only do we create our own “boxes,” but we also reside in a bigger societal “box.” In “Binding,” the human figure has a stance that borders between curiosity and caution, standing behind a long piece of binding tape that secures the box in which he is standing against the wall behind. It is a precarious hold that is only temporary, suggesting that we in truth hold ourselves back.
Escape is possible. In “Extricate from Darkness,” an abandoned, comfortable-looking chair sits in its box-room, half in light and half in darkness, while an opened combination lock hangs from a latch on the box’s exterior. A brightly-lit distant cityscape could be the destination of the chair’s former occupant.
Jun Kyu Lee currently teaches painting at Shoreline Community College as a guest instructor. The show goes from Jan. 4 – 29. The Shoreline Community College Gallery, Administration Building (1000), is open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday..