Lee Woolim

Lee Woolim(LEE & BAE)


Motifs associated with blue and white porcelain from the Joseon Dynasty and genre paintings are often found in Woolim Lee’s paintings. Ceramic designs sometimes become patterns on figures or animals in his paintings, and figures in genre paintings themselves become the main protagonists of Lee’s works. Through paintings that portray the combination and hybridity of the East and the West, past and present, and reality and imagination, Woolim Lee creates a lazy, vague, and surreal image on the canvas.

Woolim Lee was born in Sacheon, Gyeongsangnam-do in 1972 and studied Western painting at Yeungnam University. He also earned his graduate degree at the same university. Lee began to draw attention from critics upon being named the Kumho Young Artist in 2006, and he has held a number of solo and group exhibitions at leading galleries at home and abroad. Lee has also participated in many domestic and international art fairs including those in Beijing, Singapore, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. His works are part of the Seoul Museum of Art and Kumho Museum of Art collections, and he has secured a domestic and foreign collector base with his original and thoughtful methods of artistic expression. Woolim Lee’s work has continued to develop amid the interest of art lovers and art connoisseurs around the world at art fairs, and he presents another kind of dreamy and surreal world that we couldn’t possibly imagine.

The characters in the paintings are staring at one point with faces that lack expression or are only showing their backs. A green forest unfolds on the canvas. The woman’s clothes and animals are decorated with colorful flower patterns. Lee’s expressions are bold. Sometimes they are elaborate and at others, they are boldly omitted or appropriated, making us wonder if there is a limit to expression. The size of the canvas doesn’t matter so much to the artist. He also let the woman in the canvas walk out as a sculpture. This woman confronts the audience with a fluttering gesture, as if she is walking on the border between reality and non-reality, with her face covered, acting as though she may or may not show her face. In this way, the artist stirs up a sense of strangeness by bringing something unfamiliar into existence among things we are familiar with, while also creating a surreal atmosphere wrapped in subtle tension. Lee’s works seem to represent the human psychology that admires and imagines the ideal world as a fantastical space that crosses the boundary between reality and non-reality.

Woolim Lee’s portraits, which usually portray images of one or sometimes two characters, are presented like still life paintings. His figure paintings present a woman with a porcelain-shaped body, covered with images of flowers and all sorts of other patterns, who hides her face and only lets us see her back. Figures in Lee’s portraits lack expression on their faces and their blueish gray colored skin only makes them appear more like “inorganic, still objects.” One of the most representative paintings from the early days of his career is a painting of a crouched man. He is also perceived like a porcelain object because of the way his hands and feet are held together, and his tightly shut eyes and mouth summarize the complex narrative into a simple one.

Paintings that look almost identical appear in his painting series of different titles. This reminds us of the original form of art or the origin of greatly favored paintings that did not place much emphasis on the content or theme conveyed by the title nor limit themselves to the boundary set by their titles, but rather focused on the visual effect and decorative value of their first impression

Lee Woolim
Solo Exhibition
2021 Walking on the edge, ATELIER AKI, Seoul
2019 Sleeping in the Forest, J+Gallery, NEW YORK
2018 Sleeping in the Forest, Gallery Calaxy, NEW YORK
2017 Sleeping in the forest, PYO Gallery, Seoul
Selected Group Exhibitions
2021 KAMS, SHOUT Art Hub & Gallery, Hongkong
2018 Media, Person, Scenery, Daeguartfactory, Daegu
2018 ACC ASIAPLEX studio, Gwangiu Taipei Art Fair, Taipei
2021 21st Kumho Young Artist selection
2018 2018- ACC Asian creative studio, Gwangju
Daegu art factory, Daegu
Public Collections
National Museum of Contemporary Art Art Bank
Kumho Museum
Seoul Municipal Boramae Hospital
Severance Hospital.Catholic Hospital
Hana Bank
Korea YAKULT. 93 Museum
Kiturami Boiler Co.etc
Catholic University Hospital WHITE BLOCK Art Center

Curator : Sunghui Lee & Aritst : Woolim Lee


Q. The landscapes in your paintings generally feel surreal. Please tell us about the landscape you try to depict through your works.
I tend to construct surreal spaces and a middle ground between human and nature in my paintings. I create surrealist images by adding things like flower patterns, facial expressions, and images of the back of a person to realistic landscapes or spaces, such as forests, stairs, water, and fields.


Q. The spatial composition of your work is unique. If we are to separate the space in your work into distant, middle, and close-range planes, you place shadows of things that are not present on the canvas in the close-range area and make us think about the space outside the canvas. You also use shadow to intentionally create ambiguity in the space painted on the canvas. Is there a reason for placing the shadow of an object that sits outside the canvas in the foreground of your painting to urge the audience to think about what sits outside of their view?
I use shadows to create a dreamy feeling, as if something is there. For example, I connect objects or I paint shadows in the sky, even if there isn’t anyone there, to make my paintings look like landscapes in imaginations. I may have subtly conveyed my impulse and desire for utopia that glimmers in reality through shadows.


Q. Many parts of the painting demonstrate your simple use of colors, but you also use patterns on human figures, animals, plants, and the surface of objects. Sometimes, you cover an entire human figure with fabric or designs we find on ceramics, and there are also paintings in which the shadows appear like patterns themselves. Could you share how you understand and establish the relationship between painting and pattern?
I paint in flower-patterned fabric in vague, dreamy spaces to create a mysterious atmosphere. The patterned figures that lack facial expressions and look drowsy give paintings a mystical feel. In my recent works, I have been using images from folk paintings or oriental landscape paintings in place of flower patterns on images of ceramic jar-shaped women with their backs turned toward us. There are also pieces I make by adding resin over patterned surfaces. Patterns are tools and ways through which I can break the monotony on the canvas and break away from the division of 2D and 3D.


Q. You have been using forests and fields as specific settings in your works since early on. They look as though they are places of respite, where we can turn away from the world and take a break. Could you elaborate on the meanings you assign to these forests and fields?
I usually draw forests and fields using horizontal compositions. Such composition, which makes us meditate on the solitude of nature, can arouse a tranquil and calm sentiment among the audience. Also, by adding surreal and foreign elements to the painting, I create landscapes that seem somewhat distant from reality and also dreamy.


Q. Paintings with the title Promenade catch my attention. The word promenade implies dailiness, but your paintings seem to point to or imply an unsual event. Is there anything you had in mind in particular when deciding the titles of your paintings?
Promenade I wish to convey through my work is a walk in imaginations, not reality. Rather than accepting the gap between the familiar and unfamiliar as a discrepancy, I try to exhibit my determination to walk toward a world of imaginations in between them. I believe we can enjoy even just a brief moment of relaxation away from reality through such promenade.