Johyun Gallery – June 2022
Taking total of more than five hours on a high-speed rail of going forward and back to Busan to see artist Lee Bae’s exhibition, the visit to the Johyeon Gallery in Busan to see a solo exhibition by the ‘artist of charcoal’ – Lee Bae – was a valuable experience. His use of charcoal and ink in his work illustrates his Korean tradition and identity. There were installations of oil pastels that covered the wall, with series of brushstrokes, sculptures and watercolor work.
Lee Bae’s time in Paris for 30 years was his biggest challenge in finding his identity. The charcoal that he had found in Paris had reminded him of his childhood in Korea. With a revelation, Lee Bae started using charcoal and ink which he researched and produced. His work focuses on temporality and physicality which he interprets and illustrates in his work as continuation and permanence, just as the pine tree he uses for charcoal which is over 100 years old. When the pine tree becomes charcoal, its life is is extended to several thousand years. The fact that he was deeply engaged with his materials used for his work to establish meanings were fascinating as I never realized intentions could also be embedded in materials used. The charcoal symbolizes the condensation of time – eternity – and it is an object that represents an attitude that continues to be alive and lasting in life. His dry brush marks convey subtle movements of the body and the artist’s energy. What also draws me in his art is the hint of oriental art within the numerous grains of charcoal in his brush strokes.
Not only texture, but the gradient of colors from the black charcoal makes his work interesting as it gives different shades and patterns in his strokes. Lee Bae is one of my favorite Korean artists. His recent collaboration with Saint Laurent forced me to look forward to his other future works as a rising Korean artist who has been globally recognized.