South Korea

Kyung Mi Lee Biography

Working in a hyper-realistic style, Kyung Mi Lee creates fantastic landscapes and street scenes, often inhabited by cats, and shaped panel paintings.

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Early Work

Kyung Mi Lee studied at the Hongik University in Seoul, receiving her BFAs in Printmaking (2000) and Painting (2004) as well as an MFA in Painting (2006). A recurring theme in Lee's early works concerns passageways that open to distant places, such as the installation of white doors in Nine Doors (2006) that lead to painted depictions of the ocean.

During her undergraduate studies, Lee began to paint cats based on Nana, her pet at the time. The cat appears in solitude or in small numbers, juxtaposed with outlandish landscapes and architectural elements. A pair of windows open on either side of the canvas in Solitude (2009), through which waves spill into the ambiguous interior. Nana stands before a small model of a castle in the room, while the window on the right shows a snowy landscape.


Cats and waves continue to frequent Kyung Mi Lee's ongoing painting series 'Street', whose composition typically consists of stacks of oversized books on either side of the canvas, sitting on an immaculately painted tablecloth and desk. Works such as Snowing in Toledo I (2010) or Hong Kong Dong Shin Church on the Table (2019) are based on actual streets and cities; in them, the tablecloth is seen turning into waves. As the books recede into the vanishing point, they transform into tall buildings, and cats appear nonchalantly strolling or resting on the flooding street.

New Vertical Paintings

In 2016, Kyung Mi Lee began a new series of works based on Albrecht Durer's 'Apocalypse', a series of woodblock prints deriving from the last book of the New Testament. Entitled 'New Vertical Paintings' (2016—2019), the series saw the artist collage Durer's prints together with elements from comic strips, including speech balloons and sound effects, characters such as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, and photographic images that add a contemporary touch to the 16th-century woodblocks. The series received critical attention in Korea when Lee was awarded the SeokJu Art Prize in 2019.

Shaped Panel Painting

Kyung Mi Lee's earlier shaped paintings and 'New Vertical Paintings' have led to shaped panel paintings, in which the artist constructs a shallow cube-shaped canvas out of birch panels. In her balloon paintings, based on the memory of Lee's father selling shaped balloons, heart-shaped balloons appear at the centre of the shaped canvases, often with short but cheering lines such as I Got Life (2018) and You Will Never Walk Alone (2020). Though the balloons appear deflated, Lee enshrines them inside their own boxes and encourages that, in spite of hardship, life goes on.

You Will Never Walk Alone was also the title of Lee's solo exhibition in 2020, for which she opened her studio to the public for two weeks as part of Art Chosun Atelier Project.


Selected solo exhibitions include One Day At A Time, Liang Project, Shanghai (2020); THEN & NOW: New Vertical Painting — Durer's Apocalypse, Gallery Sejul, Seoul (2019); I GOT LIFE, Lingang Contemporary Art Museum, Shanghai (2019); Utopia as a Distant View, ToSee Gallery, Taipei (2015); and Artist's House, Seong Buk Museum of Art, Seoul (2014).

Selected group exhibitions include New Normal New May Way, SOOHOH Gallery, Seongnam, Korea (2021); Iconic, Art Delight Gallery, Seoul (2020); Up Close 01, M Contemporary Museum, Seoul (2020); IMAGE: Fascinating Alchemy, Danwon Museum of Art, AnSan (2019); K-P.O.P. Korea Contemporary Arts, MOCA Taipei, Taiwan (2014); The Carnival of Animals, Seoul Arts Center (2012); and The Story of Cats & Dogs, Dae-Jeon Museum, Dae-Jeon (2007).


Kyung Mi Lee's website can be found here.

Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2021

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