Sojung Lee approaches the hanji (韓紙: mulberry paper) canvas with the question of 'how will it be made' rather than 'what to paint,' and the resulting painting reflects her concern. Her process of creating an image is adding paint to space and creating forms. She utilizes the manifested phenomena of the materials' physical properties and their interactions to generate effects, which she guides towards their conclusive outcome on hanji. This elaborate process is why Lee describes her practice as creating, rather than merely painting.
In Sojung Lee's previous serialized works, she followed a step-by-step manual for creating a painting. This reference guide was based on her investigation of what constitutes a completed painting, where she could relinquish control of the brush. To define such completion, she developed an instruction manual that defined steps culminating in a final stage. It was akin to modular, prefabricated furniture that merely required adherence to the steps of a pictorial instruction manual. Paradoxically, it was within this rigid control that the artist encountered exceptions, unexpected cracks, and anomalies, which she found elating. The exceptions to these established rules became the subject of her painterly practice.
In 2019, Lee found beauty in the free-form results arising from a chance effect that she had been attempting to control. Rather than determining a final conclusive moment for the painting, she focused on seeking hints about chance shapes that could lead to an unforeseen point of completion. This probing process was made possible through her experimentation with different materialities on the hanji canvas. She deliberately introduced coincidental effects by colliding various physical properties of substrates, such as paint with paint, Indian ink with paint, paper with pigment, and even beeswax. The intended and the unexpected meet on the canvas, creating a dramatic interplay of collision and harmony.
In addition to the artist's established method, the new series incorporates a process she describes as exuviating (脫殼), or flaying (剝皮). The artist peels off layers of hanji paper, to put it simply. The samhap jangji (將紙: cardstock mulberry paper), which she uses as a substrate, consists of samhap (triple-ply) of hanji predominantly used in Korean colored paintings. Each layer absorbs colors and ink to varying degrees of shade and intensity. The final form of the artwork emerges as the layers are peeled off, leaving areas that represent forms or backgrounds, which, depending on the viewer, may appear reversed.
As important to the creation of the works as the delayering process is the interplay of colors that follows. Colors are added in a manner that distinguishes the strata with varying shades and intensity. As layers are removed and colors are added, Lee also uses wax to laminate and seal what she deems complete and worth preserving. In some cases, the reverse side of the hanji canvas becomes the completed painting. Overall, the artist's creative process explores strong contrasts and harmonization between disparate elements on the canvas.
Sojung Lee discovered many parallels between her creative process and the craft of jeongak (篆刻: seal-cutting), drawing connections with childhood memories of her father teaching her seal-cutting and ink-rubbing takbon techniques. She describes the desired end result as cicada wings. Cicada wings are characterized not only by their solid structure, serving a specific function, but also by their sculptural aesthetics pleasing to the eye. In the context of seal-cutting and takbon printing, the concept of cicada wings translates into solid aesthetic structures that serve the function and form of two-dimensional prints while harmonizing with the stone or wooden materiality from which they are carved.
Sojung Lee's works explore and deconstruct the boundaries between contingency and inevitability, colors, materials, and even the front and back of paper. The objective is not to demarcate their differences, but rather to allow encounters between differences and accept the outcomes matter-of-factly. Prescribed techniques and manipulations give way to structural perfection but often lose the sense of sculptural beauty. She seeks a balance between structure and aesthetics, much like cicada wings that embody both structural perfection and sculptural beauty.
Press release courtesy GALLERY2.