Korean-American artist Il Lee stands in front of his abstract work "BL-119" (2009) drawn using only a ballpoint pen on display at Gallery Hyundai in Sagan-dong, central Seoul. / Courtesy of Gallery Hyundai
By Kwon Mee-yooBorn in Korea but presently based in Brooklyn, New York, artist Il Lee is known for using ballpoint pens to create fine art. Visitors can enter his world of scribbles that contrast light and dark in a solo exhibit titled "Il Lee and the Line of Duration" at Gallery Hyundai in Sagan-dong, central Seoul.For some three decades, hovering over deed and concept, Lee has described his artistic universe using only ballpoint pens.Lee's abstract works derived from endless efforts to achieve uniqueness. The ballpoint pen is a daily object but it becomes so powerful when Lee uses it to depict a dark mass on the canvas. Previously he has held several exhibitions in the United States, including "Il Lee: Ballpoint Abstraction" at the San Jose Museum of Art in California and "Il Lee: Ballpoint Drawings" at the Queens Museum of Art in Queens, New York, both in 2007. His works were also included in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York's "Abstraction in Korean Art" in 2010 and this March four of his pieces became part of the Met's permanent collection.
The Seoul show, his first here in 16 years, features 24 of Lee's ballpoint and oil paintings.Each canvas is filled with lines painstakingly drawn by ballpoint pen. It is a rather unfamiliar feeling to see the common material of ink used daily to write used to fill solemn canvases. There is a dramatic effect in meeting a regular almost boring object in an art gallery."I keep my hands busy on paper all the time and ideas come from such drawings. I could develop a nice pattern from them or rely on the luck of coincidence", he said at a press conference last week. "Instead of thinking too much before drawing, I rather face the canvas and feel it. It's like more being intuitive".He uses ballpoint pens on large canvases and some art critics debate whether Lee's works are drawings or paintings. He seems rather amused about this reaction and said, "It is not bad for an artist to confuse critics".It is difficult to imagine how much labor he puts in to draw such a field of color using only ballpoint pens since some of his bigger works are as large as 221 by 365 centimeters.However, Lee says it is not labor-intensive. "There are differences between painted color fields and color fields created by overlapping lines. I fell for the profound charm of lines overlapping each other", he said. Since 2010, Lee has employed new tools to broaden his artistic world. He has used empty ballpoint pen casings and bamboo sticks on acrylic on canvas. Poet and critic Raphael Rubinstein sees a connection to ink-and-wash paintings as a line cannot be redone once drawn.His newest works, "WB-1201" and "WR-1201" (both 2012), evince how Lee still seeks newer methods. These two relatively small pieces are made of layers of acryl colors in red and blue covered with white oil color. Lee raked them with bamboo sticks before they dried to reveal the layers underneath. The revelation of colors shows Lee's consistent search for vitality.The exhibition runs through July 15. A talk with the artist hosted by art critic Chung Joon-mo will be at 2 p.m., Saturday. For more information, visit www.galleryhyundai.com or call (02) 2287-3500.