The work of Korean artist Boo Duck Lee has roots in two widely divergent eras. She makes sculpture of hanji, a paper made by hand in a tradition dating back thousands of years. She designs fabrics that are digitally printed using contemporary computer technology. Both are on display in the gallery at Kobo at Higo, contrasting views of one creative personality.
“I am a paper artist and textile designer,” said Lee, introducing herself at the opening of her show. Her works in paper are relief sculptures executed in hanji, a paper made from the bark of the mulberry tree. Lee employs a clean graphic style and neutral palette that give these works a serene quality, even when the designs are hard-edged and dynamic. Several pieces are abstract compositions built of strips of black and white paper standing on edge in rippling lines and concentric circles, like patterns on the surface of water. A pair of works titled “Life” uses the same strip construction to form subtle all-white female figures. The Lotus series is more pictorial with lotus blossoms, other plant and sea life sculpted in monochromatic paper pulp. Remember is a pair of three-dimensional collages of large characters torn from thick unbleached handmade paper and fragments of Korean book pages. While incorporating these varied techniques, Lee’s work is unified by an atmosphere of meditation and memory that avoids sentimentality.
Hanji is believed to have roots in papermaking techniques invented in China. In the first century B.C., it appeared in Korea, where it has been produced continuously to the present. Books printed with moveable type on hanji paper predate the development of the printing press in Europe. Today, hanji is made by hand and industrially. In addition to its traditional use for painting, calligraphy, and other arts, it is made into house wares and small scale furniture. Boo Duck Lee states that because hanji is an organic material that is good for the skin, its use in clothing and bedding is increasing.
Lee lives in Jeonju, South Korea, the historical center of hanji production. At Kunjang University in Gunsan City, about 30 miles west, she teaches both paper art and digital textile design. In 2003, she founded Artex Design Laboratory, a “digital textile enterprise” within Kunjang College that manufactures and markets “cultural goods and fashion accessories” designed by Lee and her industrial design students. Original art is scanned by computer and the image expanded into a repeating pattern which is printed on fabric, usually silk, and made into clothing and accessories. Lee’s textile designs at Kobo represent a range of techniques and visual styles: drawings, watercolors, shibori (tie-dye) patterns, floral prints, and computer-generated graphics. Most of the pieces on display are neckties, plus a few scarves and articles of clothing. The scale and colors of the printed patterns vary from small and subdued to large and flamboyant. Every aspect of Lee’s textile designs, from the high-tech production process to the wide range of colors and designs, is in striking contrast to her hanji paper sculpture. Taken together, the two bodies of work demonstrate an artist’s ability to integrate tradition and innovation, to reconcile fine art with industry.
The exhibition at Kobo culminates Lee’s summer spent as an artist-in-residence at Tacoma Community College, a sister school of Kunjang College. The two schools have hosted a number of faculty and student exchanges, but Lee’s is the first artist residency.
“Boo Duck Lee: Paper Art” is on view August 20 – September 5 at Kobo at Higo, 602 S. Jackson St. in Seattle. (206) 381-3000 or visit: www.koboseattle.com.