"Dressing Nature with History"
Lee Seahyun’s scarlet landscapes give a strong visual impact, almost as much as creating a hallucination. This was exactly true for his exhibition in London a couple of years ago. Four landscape paintings were displayed in a small room, and the red reflected on the white walls created an indescribable fluorescent pink light that out-shined the whole room. Just like the entrance of an UFO in a sci-fi movie, Lee’s paintings were unnatural and unrealistic.
However, when you take a close look – having pushed through the dreamy fantasy – you come to encounter a rather familiar scenery. The painting is packed with buildings, towns and happenings that surround us. It is extremely realistic. However the reality is not as beautiful as it is sorrowful. Lee’s painting contains the joy, anger, sorrow and pleasure of modern Korean history. Some parts of the painting are so painful that it feels as if I have drained out every single drop of my blood to have ainted it. This is the very reason why Lee’s work is so prominent in helping us commemorate both the nature, and human beings living in it – for a single painting of his contains the entire life and emotions of humans and nature. This, is a privileged granted not to literature, architecture or music, but only to a successful paintings.
The advantages of Lee’s work were born out of the conquest over long believed prejudices and classification. One of the most problematic rejudices that he addresses is the binary of the East and the West, and humans and nature. Lee sees the ‘three viewpoint method’ in Eastern paintings – arbitrarily cutting and pasting the front, rear, and the upper side as a man wishes – as a repressive and egocentric approach toward nature; a visual and perceptual violence. In this regard, the Eastern philosophy is not necessarily more environmentally friendly but more inhumane that the Western counterparts.
Lee’s Between Red series were born from his symbolic patricide of Eastern stereotypes. Such a critical perspective expands to his critique on bonsai, a long-established leisure for Eastern intellectuals. Bonsai, he says, are a prime reflection of manipulation of nature, and a creation of a sculpture. From what the East considers the greatest level of natural beauty, Lee finds men’s brutality. This critical perspective led him to reate Between Red series and Bunjae Sansu(Bunsai landscape painting, 盆栽 山水)and this continues in his Bunjae Jogak(Bunsai sculpture, 盆栽 彫刻). His work candidly reveals the violence implied in the act of painting, consequently showing us our historical wounds embedded in nature, and thus creates a new philosophy encompassing the East and the West, and humans and nature. This is exactly the reason why Lee’s work heals the wounds not only in human minds but also in nature.
If you are taken away only by the strong visuals in Lee’s paintings, you can easily miss the profound philosophy in it. Fortunately, he has found in his works the point where content and form come together harmoniously. Although he has spent a very long time studying in London, he did not become a mere follower of the Western trend, but an artist who has developed his own style crossing the boarders between the East and the West, and humans and nature. His thoughts are provocative, yet understandable and the form he has cultivated is worthy of applause. Lee has become an artist who has his own digestive and excretion system, and I am almost certain that I am not the only one who think so.