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Color is a flame of shape

Blooming- Jeong-Eun Lee Solo Exhibition

Heung-Cheol Choi (Chief curator of Arko Art Center)

The paintings of Jeong-Eun Lee evoke a transient landscape and metaphors on nature and phenomena despite their abstractquality far removed from nature, recalling the free essay literary structure rather than the strict order of poetry. The paintings project an underwater landscape as seen from a submarine through a small window, showing undersea creatures of the South Seas floating weightless in vague rhythm, just like the imagery in Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Rather than visualizing this odd journey concretely, a text-based abstract description often makes obscure images moreobscure. Cy Tombly (1928~) scribbled crudely and meaninglessly while recalling travel to strange places. He kept us free from the restrictions of visual recognition and provided new visual experiences by using a form of automatic writing like scrawling,blurring the borders between diverse media. The paintings of Jeong-Eun Lee are like this, in that they let us freely imagine in peaceful and lyrical beauty, and sometimes exploding vibrantly like a solar flare, instead of relying on mere reproduction.


Plato (B.C.427~347) integrated aesthetics and art theory which had previously been seen as separate. He wanted to thoroughly reject imitative art in expressing his art theory most clearly and maturely, and overcome the theory that ‘art is an imitation of nature’, the prevalent aesthetic in classical Greece. Art historian Joan Joachim Winckelmann (1717~1768), who was probably the first supporter of the art revolution theory, established a new concept of art based in an ideology beyond Mimesis, recognizing the world of art as an organic totality, and making its way exclusively.


According to enlightenment thinker Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749~1832, color is ‘a form that nature allows people by its own rules.’ Since 1790 after he two journeys to Italy, upon realizing the necessity for rules and standards of coloring in terms of its practical use in painting, he wrote‘ Color theory’ (1810) based on 20 years of intensive study, and devised the circle of harmonic colors, today’s color wheel, and enabled its aesthetic use. Color theory was the dogma of works and the whole like for him. Unlike the optical science of Isaac Newton (1642~1727), prevalent ne at that time, Goethe’s physiological color theory regarding color phenomena as a bipolar conflict between brightness and darkness warned of the danger to be incurred in the future by the mechanistic and reductionist cognition of Rene Descartes (1586~1650), Galileo Galilei (1564~1642), and Newton.


Just as with modern insensitive initiatives like the Four Grand Rivers Project which leave no room for questioning, Goethe’s color theory rallied against the application of plain efficiency and mechanical analysis of nature. It expresses an intuition on the spiritual effects of color, and inspired artists to believe in the intrinsic power of color, despite the theory being excoriated by strict rationalists of the time, with just a few painters and artists welcoming it. It provides a theoretical ground urging recognition of nature new welcomed by today’s ecologists. Particularly, representative artists who perceived the true nature of color as light, included Claude Monet (1840~1926), Paul Cezanne (1839~1909), Vincent van Gogh (1853~1890) and Pierre Bonnard (1867~1947), who used color habits reminiscent of Goethe.


Cezanne gave other artists inspiration in dreaming new shapes through an architectonic structure of color as pure reason,vivid ideas and surfaces, showing the archetypes hidden in natural shapes. It creates new objects through the internal relationships of oneself, not the value of the visible outer world, expressed on the canvas and completely separate from imitation of nature. Consequently, the surface of Jeong-Eun Lee’s paintings are not a tool for reproduction, but form without structure as pure formative language and a border or gate way in space separating adjacent domains. The shape of color thus means as pace where our mind and the universe encounter one another.


The belief that color comes from light as been maintained for a long time, and has inspired classical physicists like Newton. Nevertheless, Rudolf Steiner (1861~1925), a Goethe scholar and founder of Anthroposophy pointed out that previous painters had not distinguished between color as light and color as image. Lee’s color forms a unique realm as a major covering of most of the canvas in blurring and joining a range of colors. She is closer to the Romantic artists than the Classicists because she separates color from nature, breaking the causal relationship between external light and the retina.


Although most paintings in this exhibition have cool colors, there is a chemical action instead color conflict because the colors are blue-toned in contrast to the warm and soft colors. The other hues do not occupy the entire canvas, and the 2-Dformswith color combinations complementing each other create a spaciousness spiraling deep into the canvas like a Proscenium stage.These are more akin to the gestalt process, like Sunset by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775~1851) or Water Lilies by Monet, rather than mere colors on canvas. As Plato said, ‘colors are a flame which emanates from every sort of body,’ Lee’s surfaces of blue are like a deep ocean absorbing all colors, yellow like a coating of pollen, and red like maple leaves turning as they die. They fall in the realm of imagery where hot and cold flames become entangled and send off myriad signals.


The transparent flat-to-sharp surface of the fresco method is usually used to make clear and sharp outlines by absorbing pigments, but the shapes in her paintings have soft, blurred edges. Here on the canvas is an ocean free from gravity with loose shapes in clear colored points and lines slowly floating. By directly linking the cerebral senses with imaginary areas, forms surpassing a plastic artifice begin from a basic line, grow gradually, and emerge as forms. A point increases to a vague pictograph or a geometric symbol, entangled and integrated through each attraction, thrives as a form of life like genetic code, or blooms like a flower. Though natural life may vanish, no power is accidental, but is raised by an artist’s insight and intuition. It is difficult to explain or analyze, but it is akin to a life energy explosion in a pulsing rhythmic repetition.


Along with Lee, many artists have made efforts towards a total comprehension of imaginary expressiveness in pure visual language like colors, lines or shapes as compared to music, but only a few can reach the level of abreaction. As mentioned above, the notion of abstraction aimed at the expression of the interior mind was theoretically and practically established by Vasily Vasilyevich Kandinsky (1866~1944), an instructor at Dessau Bauhaus. He described the Plastic theory, providing the basis of abstract art in ‘Concerning the Spiritual in Art’ (1912), combining the basic idea of plastic art which easily fades to dullness, with the unreasonable content of insight and imagination. He taught in mural workshops at Bauhaus, with Jeong-Eun Lee coincidently majoring in mural painting at Tokyo national art university. 


By the time Jeong-Eun Lee’s exhibition begins, presenting heart she produced in Japan, it will be the season that the most beautiful flowers in Seoul come into bloom. Understanding things that used to be unknown and thinking rationally for a better understanding, would have us reach into a secret archetype hidden in nature, that great artists have ultimately sought to unfold. Accordingly, an artists’ work, in her view, is a curious pursuit of everything unpredictable, which is nothing, but simultaneously absolute and fatal. It is a song of confession and impressionssensed and viewed by accidental travelersand derived from the true form of life, an experiment in pure visual perception and a record ‘tracing the imagination.’

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