Arthur Kwon Lee’s Gestural Mark Making Harmonizes Expressive Color Palettes With World Mythologies


“Filo Sofi Arts is pleased to present Hermitage, a digital exhibition of paintings by Arthur Kwon Lee, curated by the gallery’s director of philosophical praxis Donovan Irven, Ph.D.

With his latest body of work, Arthur gives physical form to our modern historical moment, tackling humanity’s experience of collective isolation during the Covid-19 quarantine. Mining traditions of ancient statuary from classical Greco-Roman and East Asian cultures, he reimagines classic figurative work with contemporary sensibility, utilizing a vibrant color palette and archetypal motifs to illustrate the sacred inner sanctum of our mind’s eye. Through Hermitage, viewers are invited to ruminate on humanity’s social existence, and how our dramatic shift away from robust public interaction to social distancing has transformed our modalities of connection and harmonization.

Arthur Kwon Lee, Colossal Youth, 2019, Acrylic on canvas, 101.6 × 76.2 cm

Arthur Kwon Lee (b.1991) is a Korean American painter whose gestural mark making harmonizes expressive color palettes with world mythologies. His work has won awards from George Washington University, the Overseas National Institute, the Korean Artists Association, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Lee draws inspiration from a broad range of sources including Jungian psychoanalysis, local religious traditions, and his lifelong commitment to martial arts.

Prior to developing a love for painting, Lee was a Division One athlete who placed in the US Tae Kwon Do Nationals for three consecutive years. Lee has carried this martial intensity into his artwork where it translated into large-scale works and a diversity of dynamic brushstrokes. The resulting compositions attest to an artist who uses his entire body to paint symbolically evocative works that contain oblique references to archetypal myths from around the world. Luminous colors, gestural expressionism, and philosophical acumen bring a refreshing sentiment to art that draws our sometimes compartmentalized and fractured times into a synthetic, representative whole”.

Arthur Kwoon Lee, Ganesha Ganesha, 2020, Acrylic on canvas, 50.8 × 40.6 cm

Can you tell us about the process of making your work?

At a personal level my paintings are a sharing of my psychological and spiritual findings in conversation with philosophical and religious ideas. Upon entrance to my studio one will find a scattering of texts by Barthes, Campbell, or Jung at one hand and an explosive array of paint splattered across the walls at another. The role of the artist is to expand the domain of order onto the world of chaos, by surfing the symbolism of archetypal imagery and the meta narratives they imply my language is made.

 How would you define your work in a few words (ideally in 3 words)?

Luxury meets academia.

Can you name any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?

Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ernst Fuchs, Gianni Versace, Joan Mitchell, Hayao Miyazaki, Gustav Klimt.

You recently launched your solo exhibition, Hermitage, could you provide us some more details about this new exhibition?

Hermitage is my solo exhibition with Filo Sofi Arts (FSA), founded by Gabrielle Aruta and curated by philosopher Donovan Irven. It is a virtual invitation to look within during these disconcerting times and see what we collectively share rather than focusing on our external differences. In Hermitage my paintings function as transcendental mirrors where FSA literally provides a mental space for reflection and a deeper understanding of the narrative structures in our shared psyche.

Are there any additional details would you be regarding your new painting ‘Celestial Migration’, 2020? Is there any story behind this painting?

In Celestial Migration we have a clear juxtaposition of cultural references from both East Asia and figures of stoicism from the West taking form as all the incentives man has for battle. Be it the adoration of a lover, protection of the sacred or the self-proclamation as the alpha male – represented in South Korea by the Siberian Tiger. Centered amongst the maelstrom is a monk sitting in zazen, as the man who goes within his own hermitage transcends all the white noise. This contrast is only echoed by the intentionally clean blue silhouette of Kyoto flying away in pixelation as butterflies – which universally adopts itself as a symbol of transformation or waking up.

Arthur Kwon Lee, Celestial Migration, 2020, Acrylic on Canvas, 243.8 × 127 × 5.1 cm

 How do you know when a painting is finished?

If you imagine three eccentric circles on top of each other representing color, symbolism and mark making – the painting is complete when they are concentrically stacked together in regards to the weight and complexity of the composition.

What about the place where you work? What’s your studio space like, and how does it affect your process?

My studio is in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and besides the expressive paint marks along the floor and walls I need to keep my space polished to function. The space your art is born out of is reflected in the environment they inhabit and tells the story behind the artist’s personal aesthetic. I have pride in the technical level my works are executed at so I need to maintain the correct aura whenever I enter the building to work.

What do you hope audiences will take from your work?

My goal in painting has always been to promulgate a sense of awe, the fact that we are in such an irreverent time is a reflection on man’s proclaimed death of God in conjunction to the instant gratification of new media. What you see in my work is the repository of human culture resurfaced through the integrated lens of Modernism. I am making the ‘old’ new, commercializing the spiritual and presenting orthodoxy as the new counter culture to young people.

Are you a morning person or a night owl?

I am a morning person, generally in the studio from 6:00 AM to 3:30 PM daily.

Is the glass half empty or half full?

Both, everything will inevitably and absolutely disappear yet the entire universe is born out of nothingness.

Which are your plans for the near future?

Professionally speaking, I was recently given the inaugural award of Eileen Kaminsky Family Foundation’s Artist of the Year. This honorable title allows me to reach a broader audience and influence people towards the good, or to turn inside themselves. Additionally, and thankfully, the three institutions I had projects with this year that were cancelled due the pandemic are rescheduled for 2021. As the saying goes “A setback is a setup for a comeback.” More recently, I also have an upcoming group show with GR Gallery in New York City at the end of this month to continue alleviating some of the quarantine fatigue we all share here in the city.

Now inside the studio, my summer reading is a book titled “The Presence of Other Worlds” by Emanuel Swedenborg. I am interested in animating some of these ideas visually as I continue my journey here. I have been sitting on many powerful compositions and sketches for the last six months, patiently yet surely being perfected.

Arthur Kwon Lee, Antinous, 2020, Acrylic on canvas, 76.2 × 61 cm
All and Everything Filo Sofi Arts Arthur Kwon Lee Hermitage 60 x 48
Arthur Kwon Lee, All & Everything, 2019 Acrylic on canvas, 121.9 × 152.4 cm
Arthur Kwon Lee, Dance With the Devil, 2019, Acrylic on canvas, 91.4 × 121.9 cm

© All images are courtesy of the artist and Filo Sofi Arts


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