Making Art

Since February 2020, just after the close of my retrospective, I have been making art vocationally. If I succeed in enjoying a long career as a full-time artist, I will be one with an atypical decade since college graduation in that I spent most of it doing things other than studio work. Then again, most artist these days presumably have B.F.A.s as opposed to B.A.s, too. In any case, I am an artist, and the most possible good I could generate would come from me making art.

I aim to be decidedly more prolific and exhibit my work much more frequently in the future. What time I had been spending studying art theory in graduate school I can now devote to making art. I concluded my art theory studies in the summer of 2018, and wrote an article for the quarterly Stained Glass in the winter of 2018, but was also spending some time on designing characters for popular contents until this year. Now I am focused solely on painting when I am not translating, although I will still read books and exercise, too. (News: I updated my web site’s fine art portfolio at around the time I had my retrospective: www.hanlee.kr.)

My 2020 Retrospective

I exhibited work I made since 2015 at Ilgok Gallery.

I continued to translate for art organizations. I exhibited in a couple of trade shows with my Eastern zodiac animal (year sign) characters, in 2017 and 2019. I also got an essay I wrote (“The Stained Glass of Choi Young-Shim”) published in the winter 2018-2019 issue of the Stained Glass Association of America’s quarterly, Stained Glass. I visited Europe and saw the Kassel Documenta, Munster Sculpture Project, Venice Biennale, Louvre, Pompidou Center, British Museum, Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Frieze London, etc. in the autumn of 2017. I also received a government grant to make prototypes of mugs, tote bags, baseball caps, multi-use cases and other everyday items with my Eastern zodiac animal designs on them, in 2016 and 2017. I even made cylindrical aluminum cases with relief animal face covers. I got to audit art criticism, glass art and figure drawing courses at the Korea National University of Arts. I have updated my website (http://hanlee.kr) recently, and there are more details on the above there.

The following is a video of my recent Eastern zodiac animal drawings.

My Booth

My booth at the 2019 Korea Character Licensing Fair

Tiger Case

My aluminum tiger container (prototype)

20160623_104426[1](June 22-25, 2016) I traveled to Taipei to help the Gwangju Museum of Art work out plans for its upcoming jointly curated exhibition with the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. I traveled with Mr. Lim Jong-Young, a curator at the Gwangju Museum of Art. In our first evening there, on the 22nd of June, we visited Mr. Chu Teh-I, the director of the Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts, at his office on the campus of the Taipei National University of the Arts. Mr. Chu is also an artist and will be showing in the upcoming exhibit, tentatively titled, “Under the Azure Sky: In Between Delight and Discomfort.” Mr. Chu is an accomplished abstract painter, and I could see in his works echos of Korea’s Informel paintings. The Taipei National University of the Arts has an impressive campus and the Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts had a neat show going on with the Korean artist, Kim Yong-shik’s colorful painting/prints.

On our first full day in Taipei, June 23rd, we met with Ms. Ping Lin, the director of the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, and attended a meeting with Ms. Jo Hsiao, the co-curator of “Under the Azure Sky” and a Senior curator at Taipei Fine Arts Museum, and a couple of Taiwanese artists who will exhibit in “Under the Azure Sky.” Ms. Lin was an impressive lady, and she seemed impressed with the upcoming exhibit’s Korean artists’ works Mr. Lim presented to her through images. Our meeting with Ms. Hsiao and the exhibiting artists lasted the entire afternoon. Mr. Lim and I learned that the Taipei Fine Arts Museum has a design specialist for exhibition layouts. One of the artists we met today, to be named later, was planning on using an entire wall inside the Gwangju Museum of Art’s Gallery where “Under the Azure Sky” is to be held, and the group discussed which wall would be best for it. It was a very interesting day, and I enjoyed the architecture of the Taipei Fine Arts Museum’s office area, our meeting room in particular.

The meeting continued on June 24th, a day in which Mr. Lim and Ms. Hsiao, with myself interpreting as needed, discussed how where in the exhibition space to display each artist’s work, and met with a couple more exhibiting artists to discuss with them how their works should be installed, from morning through the entire afternoon. The Primary language of the meeting was English, and the artists we met since the day surprised Mr. Lim and I by uniformly speaking English quite comfortably. In any case the exhibit seemed to be coming together quite nicely with the meetings. Ms. Hsiao nevertheless insisted that there was still much work to be done before the exhibit would be completely ready, and Mr. Lim agreed, particularly as he had plenty to figure out in terms of balancing the exhibit’s installation budget on his part, particularly as many of the works were video or installation pieces and required certain devices for their presentation.

This was my first overseas trip solely to attend a curatorial meeting, and it was quite interesting. “Under the Azure Sky” will be about society’s tension between its accelerated technological innovation and apprehension regarding the potential threat to humanity’s spiritual survival such poses. At the same time, it will also address the viewer’s purely aesthetic needs as well. The exhibit is scheduled to become opened to the public in late August, and all who seek to nurture their senses while contemplating one’s relationship to Information technology, or how best to navigate our ever-changing world,  are welcome.

Taipei 6.22.2016

From left to right: Mr. Chu Teh-I, Mr. Lim Jong-Young and myself, at the Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts in Taipei.


On January 4th, 2016, a television program aired my art and short interviews I gave for about eight and half minutes :).

On December 29th, 2015, I painted a tiger on the hood of a Kia Sportage at the Gwangju Creative Economy Innovation Center. I was participating in the center’s make-a-thon and used my spare time I had after some group work on presenting a certain sensor device for the car to a panel of experts to paint the tiger.

Awarded 3

My painting of a tiger on a Kia Sportage hood (and myself, fourth from the right).

I participated in Southern California Institute of Architecture’s (SCI-Arc) Making + Meaning in the summer of 2014, and blogged about it at https://artarchitecture2014.wordpress.com/. SCI-Arc emphasizes a curriculum significantly informed by art.

무제-1 복사

I should have posted here earlier- I participated in an artist/curatorial residency at 99 Art Museum in Beijing from mid-December through mid-March, 2014 and 2015, and blogged about it at http://han99artmuseum.wordpress.com/. Please review my blog, thank you.

November 7th, 2015

(Dec. 28, 2012) Today I interpreted a special lecture by Dr. Richard Vine, senior editor at Art in America, given to members of the public and the local art establishment at the Gwangju Museum of Art. The lecture was titled “Asian Breakthroughs” and below is the transcript, in which the part where Dr. Vine discussed slide images of Japanese, Chinese and Korean artists is partial but most of what Dr. Vine had said.

        In art, as in economics, we routinely speak these days of a “global” situation-which sounds like a shared culture composed proportionately of elements from all over the world. In practical terms, however, the reality is rather different. “Globalism” actually translates as Western culture spreading its influence abroad and, in the process,absorbing occasional input from various regions.

        For example, when Korea opened itself to the West, everything changed-from the grandest public structures to the most intimate details of daily life. Not just the form of government, architecture, the national economic model but also modes of dress, hairstyle, food, music, language, TV and movies, relations between generations and sexes, and-yes-even art.

        The West, meanwhile, absorbed what from Korea? A large number of immigrants who have contributed mightily to the economy of countries like the United States, but very little that has in any way altered the Western self-image or way of life.

        The disproportion here has to do, I suppose, with power, wealth and-an often neglected factor-fun. Over the past two centuries, peoples everywhere have largely abandoned their traditional ways in order to take on at least the trappings [??] of modernism. Why? Because they perceive Western society to be more uniformly prosperous, more secure, more effective in the larger world, more open to innovation and change, less socially restrictive, and more enjoyable to live in.

        Or so, at least, Western observers like to think. The violence with which the blessings of our civilization are rejected by some elements in the Middle East leaves us baffled. As does, in artistic matters, the tenacity with which large numbers of people in Asia continue to esteem ink painting and calligraphy.

        In fact, as Westerners, we cannot help but view all foreign art through a particular lens: one conditioned by the specific history of modernism, arising from the revolt against the French Academy in the late 19th century and proceeding through the 20th century via a long sequence of -isms (Cubism, Fauvism, Futurism, Suprematism, etc… through Minimalism, Conceptualism) to the current state of postmodernist pluralism-in which all artistic forms and styles, in theory at least, have an equal claimon critical attention, intellectual validation, and market response.

        Once artists reach a high level of respect within their own culture, or once they even aspire to the highest regard, it is entirely natural to dream of establishing thatstatus internationally. One wishes to become, in effect, not just an American artist, a German artist, a Japanese artist, a Korean artist but rather a world artist, recognized (and purchased) everywhere.

        Despite the recent rise of China-which has so far had a financial impact but not a critical one-the global art system is dominated by a Western ethos. This means that Asian artists face a double challenge. Having first earned prominence within thier own nation, they must not only transcend their cultural borders but do so in a foreignvisual language, so to speak. That is, they must produce work that strikes Western eyes as familiar enough to be readily comprehensible but different-i.e., “Asian”enough to be fresh and intriguing.

        Let’s look at some well-known examples and see if we can discern what works and what doesn’t and why.


‘First let’s look at Japan. The Kitai Movement to Western eyes was similar to dada performance and energies of Abstract Expressionism. They took things a step further to actual performances. The photographer, Moriyama went around Japan to capture a psychically devastated Japan. More recently, as we all know, the most most effective art of Japan consists of infantilization of the subject. This is a reflection of the humiliation of a defeated nation after World War II, Murakai says this. This is a resort to simplicity and childishness is a response to the war and a sense of exclusion from the highest centers of power since the war. Even here, there is a sense of underlying anger that can be seen. Morkia Mori broke upon the world with images like this: At first people looked at this and thought it was about Japan’s cult of the cute, sexy young girl. But a closer look reveals something insane. In more recent work, the artist shifted to Abstract Spiritualism, moving away from pop culture. Murakami’s images are often the height of silliness. Similar to the face of Morkia Mori, there is underlying violence and craziness here. This is another Murakami image which looks Disney-like, until one asks what the central image is. The central image is a mushroom, and what is the association of mushrooms? Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is pretty much the art of post-war Japan. Unlike Mori, who shifted toward spiritualism, Murakami moved toward commercialism, a complete embrace of brand culture. One may say this is a cynical response, but it is an understandable one.

Looking at China now, China was closed for several decades under Mao Zedong. With the death of Mao in ’76, there was a complete opening up to Western influences in the ’80s. Artists like Wang Guangyi dealt with social shock and the reversal of traditional values through double-edged imagery. This images were about both socialist exaltations and the incursion of brand names. Another globally successful artist, Zhang Xiaogang used a simplified form of depiction, a simple kind of painting. They confirmed Western painters’ preconceptions about life in China under Mao. You can see blank expressions and a red baby. However, for Chinese viewers these paintings were a return to personal feeling. Zhang Xiaogang had represented real people. Yue Minjun made a reference to artistic repression under the Cultural Revolution. You can see here a soldier with an exaggerated smile. Zhang Huan is one of the most famous performance artists in China, who worked in Beijing’s East Village. The East Village was a refuse area inhabited by migrant workers and a number of artists. The artists were often harrassed by the government there. For one of his best known performance pieces, Zhang Huan went into a public toilet on a hot summer day, covered his body with fish oil and honey, and sat for hours, letting flies crawl on his body. This was a reference to both what the Chinese had endured historically, and what Chinese artists are willing to endure for their art. Xu Bing’s Book from the Sky has inscribed on it 4,000 characters invented by the artist. Not a single one of the characters can be read by others. This was disturbing to government officials because if they knew what the artists were saying, the government can decide how to respond to them, but if they did not know what the artists were saying, the government did not know how to respond. Ai Weiwei made it easier for everyone by being very clear. This is him dropping an ancient urn, standing in front of the camera. This is an example of his double-edged images or gestures. This is a statement in favor of getting rid of the burden of the past while, at the same time, it can be a reminder of what China had done to itself. Under the Cultural Revolution a vast quantity of art was destroyed by Red Guards. Mao had a policy of deliberately wiping out the past to start with a clean slate. Ai, more recently, came under fire for his direct, liberal criticism and served several months in prison, was fined two million dollars and is currently under house arrest, so that he cannot leave Beijing. Cai Guo-Qiang is an artist best known for fireworks performances and his works on paper which look like fireworks. In a 2008 show at the Guggenheim, he hung nine cars in the central atrium. The artist embraces and extends Chinese culture with associations with gunpowder and fireworks. The Guggenheim has one of the most idiocyncratic architectures ever. It is about one man’s vision, the West’s individualism. This artist was not intimidated by that look. It is ironic that some critics complained that Cai’s works were too spectacular, too bright, too bold or too crude. The same thing had been said about American art in the mid-20th century. When French critics looked at American art then, they said the same exact thing.

Now looking at Southeast Asia, in Thailand, Tiravanijia’s works are entirely different from this. His art has an interactive facet, operating face-to-face, in a social way. This is a direct challenge to art of monuments. It rejects the notion of art as a series of monumental objects and the cult of the individual genius. What Tiravanijia usually does in his works is cooking and serving food to people. It has an interactive side. In Vietnam, this video animation is a direct reference to Americans airlifted out of Saigon in ’75. Great was the urgency then that a number of helicopters were unable to land. There were aircraft carriers in the water, but there was not enough space on the aircraft carriers, so some of the helicopters would stay airborne until their fuel ran out and crashed into the ocean. Now, whether the artist is exalting the American defeat, or sympathizing with this tragic situation is unclear.

In Korea, Nam June Paik was among the first to see the potential in television and media. In order to break through, he went first to Japan and then to Europe, and America from there. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about that. Lee Ufan is an artist from Korea who has lived extensively in Japan and France. He recently had a major retrospective at the Guggenheim in New York. The difficulty with his works is that to Western eyes they look a lot like our Minimalism. The artist himself is adamant that his ideas arose from Eastern traditions and philosophy and are not a part of international trends. This is a case in which the art was able to break through internationally because it was familiar, but was also misunderstood for it. The same could be said to a certain extent about Park Seo-Bo and many other Korean painters whose paintings are monochrome, modular and repetitive. They look similar to Minimalism of the West. They arose from other backgrounds but formally look similar.

Kim Sooja combines two of the most famous strains of work. Here she uses Korean fabric and moves along the countryside, as if to be knitting the world together. In a video series, the artist lies beside the river, which has traditonal associations with the female- lying and fluidity. Other segments include the artist having planted herself in sidewalks of various cities around the world. She has her back to the camera and you can see people having to move aside to avoid her just standing there. You can see people having to deal with a femal, Asian figure planted there. As an example of differences in perception between the East and West, Kim Sooja may be well known in Korea, but there may also be many other artists who are better known or better esteemed than her here. However, in America, if I woke my friends up at two in the morning and asked them to name two Korean artists, they would be Nam June Paik and Kim Sooja. If there were a third, it would be Lee Bul. Live Forever, 2002 is a futuristic-looking pod which given a closer look actually has a karaoke inside. For Westerners, this reinforces what they think they know about Asians, that they are obsessed with technology and karaoke. This artist, a photographer, had people inside transparent acrylic boxes to represent social conficts. The next two artists I selected because they represented Korea in past two Venice Biennales. This is an image of Lee Young-Baek’ work. The image is hard to read, but if you look closely you will see many bright flowers. But if you keep looking you will find there shapes of soldiers. Whether it was intentional or not, this addresses a problem Western critics have with Asian art- that it is too beautiful. Here, beneath the surface there is something ominous and psychically charged. Haegue Yang represented  Korea in the 2009 Venice Biennale. This is a subtle work, modern to the eye. It is Eastern. The artist deliberately used different fragrances, making it subtle and minimalist.’

        What can we conclude from what we have just seen? What are the factors that make an Asian artwork successful beyond Asia? First, consider what we have not seen. Nothing that has “broken through” can be described as folkloric, blatantly nationalistic, or sentimental. Warm feelings for country, home, and family are tough to sell on the auction block at Christie’s-not only because we live in a new world ruled by commerce, but also because the critical establishment long ago tunred its back on art that is merely heartfelt and lovely. Such work is now deemed to be a product of false consciousness, a cover-up for an inequitable social order. One run by and for males with connections and/or money.

        By the same token, true spiritualism-the religious impulse-is also banished. Forget the fact that most people, in most places around the world, still harbor belief in a literal Higher Power. The international artworld has decided that true faith is malarkey. It will accept only a vague, generalized, watered-down spiritualism that serves as a metaphor. This art makes one feel “as if” there were a divine realm, without the annoying complications of, say, a demanding God or a personal responsibility for one’s sins.

        Rather, what succeeds globally is work that addresses the three primary concerns of contemporary Western art: namely, (1) formalism (which evokes aesthetic pleasure regardless of content), (2) social critique (which cries out for justice, defined as punishment or reward in proportion to merit) and (3) pop culture (which posits entertainment as a valide and necessary response to the burderns of everyday life).

        In China, the official line is still that Mao Zedong, despite the needless death of millions under his rule, was-on balance-70 percent correct, 30 percent wrong. I think a similar formula can be seen to apply to world art. Any artist from the East who wants to “break through” on the global system must be 70 percent Western, 30 percent Asian.

        I do not claim that this is right or just-only that it is objectively the case. And having said so, I note that demographics are shifting, that Asia-with its growing population and growing wealth-may one day, in the not too distant future, hold the upper hand.

        I wonder if-and how-things will be different then.

Following the lecture, there were three questions from the audience. The first question was whether Dr. Vine recommended that Asian artists try to be 70% Western and 30% Asian, as he said was how Asian artists appeal to Western art circles, and what kind of advice Dr. Vine gives to Western artists. Dr. Vine answered that he never gives advice to artists and that his job is to ‘observe and make informed responses to art.’ He offered that all artists would ask themselves which audience they wish to communicate with, geographically, and when they want to speak to a global audience, then they need to figure out how. The second question was how a Korean artist could overcome cultural differences and make it in the New York art scene just the same as some successful Chinese artists, but without the latter’s use of shocking elements and financial backing. Dr. Vine responded that this is “every artist’s question” and that the answer differs in each case, and asked back if the questioner wanted to know about how an artist could effectively make “mental adjustment.” The questioner replied that she was referring more to politics in art circles and how to maneuver through them. Dr. Vine responded that “Every artist has that question. Why is Hirst and Freud famous and I am not?” and said that he does not know the answer to this, and that it is a “very arbitrary process by which certain works and names emerge” and how one may improve their chances by studying at certain schools, working as assistants of certain artists and ‘being social-attending a lot of shows and meeting lots of people.’ Dr. Vine said that mental adjustments are important as well and he used an example of Western country or folk musicians who wish to be successful performers. According to Dr. Vine, such musicians need to listen to a lot of country or folk music to become “natural” and that “they can’t fake it.” He advised that artists could look at lots of international art and how there is ‘only one Gerhard Richter out of fifty thousand German artists’ and that the most successful artists are the ones that need to be examined. Dr. Vine added that artists need to immerse themselves in such successful art until the forms and styles become second nature to themselves. Finally, Dr. Vine included that if this would not work for an artist, they simply need not do it, and that ‘artists have to be true to who they are’ and how artists can stay local and still have satisfying careers. The last question was if there were a market for new media art to be formed in Asia, would the major artists for the medium be able to transition to the West? To this, Dr. Vine replied that ‘New media work is a whole new world. Technology is part of the tide of history and people are more and more into digital technology. Art will go there as well. I am still waiting for the first masterpiece of digital art. It will happen. The medium itself will yield to globalism much better than painting or sculpture. To transport heavy paintings and sculpture around is difficult but digital art can be transmitted across the world in an instant. This opens up possibility. Media artists are by orientation closer to global sensibilities, etc. in the first place, also.’

After the lecture, there was an exhibition opening at Gwangju Museum of Art Sangrok Exhibition Hall. The exhibit, “Good Night Analog, Good Morning Digital” is a solo show of Lee Leenam’s recent media works. The artist had used digital screens for his animated works including blinking van Goghs and landscapes of changing seasons.

Part of Dr. Richard Vine’s lecture. The above video is cut short due to a filming equipment issue.