Cheongdo-born, Paris and Seoul-based artist Lee Bae has a stellar list of solo exhibitions to his name but there's nothing quite like his relationship with Perrotin. The South Korean artist is having his fourth solo exhibition with the gallery titled Paradigm of Charcoal. Visualising his decades-long affinity for using charcoal as his chosen artistic material, the exhibition celebrates his experimental, bold and contemporary approach to monochrome.
This monochromatic practice has blurred the lines between drawing, painting, sculpture and installation—a work on full display in his exhibition. His use of charcoal—a deeply-rooted material in Korean culture believed to possess the power to keep out evil forces—connects him with his heritage. Trained under Dansaekhwa artists such as Park Seo-bo and mentored by Lee Ufan, Lee has honed his own craft while deepening the artistic nature of Dansaekhwa.
His Brushstroke and Untitled series all offer mesmerising, powerful and energetic imagery that employs charcoal and reinterprets classical practices of Korean calligraphy. Tatler Hong Kong talks with Lee about his new exhibition in Hong Kong, his love for charcoal, monochrome and how his experience living in Paris, Seoul and Cheongdo shaped his artistic practice.
Tell us more about your new exhibition with Perrotin.
The first show with Perrotin in Paris 2018, was titled Black Mapping. The second [one] in New York in 2019, [called] Promenade, third in Tokyo [in] 2020, and the latest exhibition, Paradigm of Charcoal at Perrotin Hong Kong.
Particularly for this exhibition, I thought about [what] I think on the Covid-19 pandemic as an artist [and] what role artworks can take in this situation. The exhibition was held during the time I was thinking a lot about it. With the new works from the Brushstroke series, I wanted to show active energies to people who are down, and it is said that charcoal can absorb viruses and bacteria.
I sincerely hope that the charcoals can cease the Covid-19 virus. Also, we will soon reach a future that requires us to create new paradigms, and art will also need to make an effort in creating a new paradigm.
Are there any pieces from the exhibition that we should pay attention to?
In making the Brushstroke series, I specifically thought about the location of the exhibition—Hong Kong, the centre of Asian culture, and the place where East and West meet. While working on this series, I tried to think about my favourite work of Bada Shanren (also known as Zhu Da). The powerful rising energy of the brush from the bottom to the top, or the intuition presented by how the whole space (blankness) transforms into a lake by a single dot of ink.
Could you tell us more about your affinity for charcoal? Why have you insisted on using it as your artistic medium during your entire practice?
I started working in Paris in 1990. Back then, I was trying to figure out what I can do to create an image of myself as an artist. As I encountered charcoal, I suddenly realised that I came from the vast world of Asian ink painting. Through charcoal, I hoped to portray myself as an artist who came from the culture of calligraphy.