In a stroke of curatorial genius, Easton’s Academy Art Museum is exhibiting the work of Korean-born artist Kyung-Lim Lee in the gallery adjacent to its show of Mark Rothko’s work on loan from the National Gallery of Art. Both exhibits continue through April 22. The visitor can follow Rothko’s development from his early figurative work through to his iconic meditative rectangles of color, then cross the hall to deepen the contemplative experience with the quiet power of Lee’s luminous drawings.
Like many of her drawings, the tiny “Sphere Gyul,” grows more and more curious as you look at it. It’s nothing but a sphere floating on a shaded background. There’s no sense of scale in any of Lee’s drawings, so it might represent a planet or just as easily, a subatomic particle. The strange thing is that although the sphere is apparently suspended in space, it casts a shadow upward—onto what?
With meticulously fine pencil marks, Lee shades the sphere dark at the bottom against a background of pale space but lightens it to a soft white glow at its top as the background smoothly shades to dark. The sphere seems to have a strong effect on the presumably empty space around it making the background appear concave. As if you’d just cracked a Zen koan, you suddenly realize you’re seeing a very simple way of saying that everything exists in relationship to everything else.
Geometry can seem cold and dispassionate, but Lee’s drawings of spheres, ellipses and shafts of nuanced color are made luminous and inviting through her masterfully subtle drawing technique. For her, drawing is a meditative process. Although her compositions seem simple, they are alive with paradox underpinned by a beauty derived from long hours of drawing transparent layers of resonant color using various drawing mediums.
There’s something riveting about “Shadow Spill” with its pitch-black circle in a field of velvety purple paired with a circle floating nearly invisibly in ultra-pale milky green. Smoothly rendered in charcoal, pastel and pencil over digital imagery, these surprising colors seem to simultaneously suck light in and radiate it outward. Although the two forms share the same invisible baseline, in a strange optical effect, the circle seems much lower and much more distant than the ellipse.
Lee’s drawings are full of such contradictions. An egg-shaped orb may seem flat but cast a deep shadow; a shaft of color with parallel sides may align with the edges of an ellipse while similar shafts fan out from the sides of a nearby circle like beams of light. In drawing after drawing, Lee plays the flat picture plane against illusionistic space, hints at the laws of physics while slipping in a contradictory set of rules, equates unlike shapes, sizes or colors, and generally puts paradox on center stage.
Like a koan’s impossible riddle, these drawings throw you off balance. The more you ponder them, the more they make you wonder, until suddenly something clicks and you feel your mind (and perhaps your spirit) open. It’s an indescribable feeling that leaves logic behind. Lee achieves it again and again, gently invoking a reassuring sense of calm and deep insight.
Homepage Image: Returning Circle, dry pigment on paper, 24″ x 36″, 2009