Kang Joo Lee Takes Inspiration from Various Urban Experiences

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Kang Joo Lee, Half of Truth, 2011, acrylic and screen print on canvas, 91 x 69 inches. Image courtesy 2 Rules Fine Art.

Life takes place for each individual at a natural pitch. For many, the frequency at which they vibrate leads them to a life of rural seclusion and slow, simple pleasures. For others, their inner-metronome clicks at a pace that makes country life impossible, whereas the rhythm of the concrete jungle proves to be much more comforting.

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One such individual is Kang Joo Lee. Hailing originally from the modern metropolis of Seoul, South Korea, Lee has called such beacons of urban living as New York and Chicago home as well. Hers is a frequency that coincides with the honking of taxi horns and the muffled stream of the crowd along a busy sidewalk. As Lee tells it, city life suits her, and in her art, it shows.

Lee’s new solo exhibition, Urban Layers, debuts at 2 Rules Fine Art Gallery on Friday, April 6. The show explores those experiences that are unique to the inner-mechanics of a densely populated environment. Her works speak of the undeniable beauty that lives in the seemingly mundane world of Laundromats and gridlock traffic, of shop lights reflecting on rain-slicked streets, the comforting hiss of a bus’s air brakes in action, or the racing hearts of youths rushing to complete their graffiti opus.

Kang Joo Lee, Brooklyn Bridge, 2012, acrylic and screen print on canvas, 63 x 50 inches. Image courtesy 2 Rules Fine Art.

This exhibition, composed largely of paint and screen print on canvas, attempts to tap into the inexplicable feeling of seeing a massive skyline appear on the horizon after a long drive, or the dizzying sensation one might feel visiting the big city for the first time. It also speaks of the peacefulness and serenity that one finds in city parks and late-night cafes.

There is a dichotomy, or balancing act, between 24-hour-a-day commerce and activity and quiet moments in coffee shops and on bicycle rides. And given population trends, where more and more people are moving into urban environments, the urban experiences resonating from Lee’s work are immensely relatable.

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BURNAWAY had the opportunity to ask Lee a few questions about her newest exhibition, her feelings on Atlanta, and where she thinks Atlanta fits in the overall scheme of global urbanity.

BURNAWAY: Greetings! Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for our readers. First of all, what led you to Atlanta and to 2 Rules Fine Art?

Kang Joo Lee: I received an invitation from the gallery. Last summer, I got an e-mail from Becky Rule [2 Rules Fine Arts co-owner] regarding participation in a 2 Rules group show with the possibility of an additional solo show. She was looking for emerging artists; I accepted her invitation because I felt that Atlanta had an energy similar to that of my paintings. I thought it would be great to get the chance to show my work in a different city other than Seoul, Chicago, and New York.

BA: Tell us about the methods you use for creating your works. Are there specific techniques you like to use?

KJL: I emphasize the materiality of paint by introducing different processes, such as screen-printing, stenciling, paint skins, and collage. In my recent work, I mostly combine screen-printing with painting because I am interested in the tension between the machine-made and the hand-made. I print as if I were painting and paint as if I were printing to show the ambiguity between print and paint. The tension between the accident and the controlled gesture reflects the shifts between the order and chaos of the urban environment.

Kang Joo Lee, Drive Your Way, 2012, acrylic and screen print on canvas, 62 x 50 inches. Image courtesy 2 Rules Fine Art.

BA: Speaking of urban environments, what is your impression of Atlanta in terms of its size and urban presence?

KJL: My first visit to Atlanta was last September for the group show opening at 2 Rules Fine Art. Since I am used to being in the middle of big cities, Atlanta did not seem that different from the places I have lived. I just felt comfortable in Atlanta because it has a similar feel to that of New York and Chicago. When I was in Atlanta last I also didn’t have that much time to explore the city. This time, however, I will stay a few days in Atlanta before my solo show opens, so I will be able to get a more in-depth experience of the city. Atlanta has become a very special city for me, as it will host my first solo show in the U.S.

BA: When you visit a new city, does the look and feel of that place make its way into your artwork?

KJL: Yes. Even though cities all have their similarities, every city has a different feel, energy, and color to it. Sometimes I make specific urban spaces, but usually the specific place is not important in my work. I am more interested in showing my experiences in urban environments by implementing the shapes of sneakers, a car, a grid, or speed. I am more interested in creating a fragmented portrait of the young urban professional class rather than just the place it is in. But of course, I always document my visit to a new city as a reference for my work.

BA: Which other cities would you like to visit?

KJL: Dubai.

BA: Why Dubai?

KJL: I just like cities and Dubai is a new city. I especially like surreal, futuristic cities, which I feel Dubai epitomizes. I have never been to the Middle East; however, I am attracted to the architecture of Dubai and the interesting shapes of its modern buildings. And, even though it was created artificially, I like the juxtaposition between the city’s fancy, contemporary architecture and the desert just beyond. I feel there is an interesting color harmony that is different from what you would find on a beach.

Kang Joo Lee, The Thin Layer of Cool, 2011, acrylic, spray paint, and screen print on canvas, 124 x 84 inches. Image courtesy 2 Rules Fine Art.

BA: You obviously take inspiration from your life inside of big cities. What else inspires you?

KJL: Exercise. I am a big fan of exercising. Even watching someone running makes me feel good. I also like sportswear and shoes. I can find lots of dynamic things in these items, such as stripes, colors, strings, and shapes. If I had not majored in art, I might have majored in a sport-related field. Exercising requires speed and motion and I like to show this dynamic activity and energy in my work. In my recent work I took a lot of inspiration from the shape, form, and color of sneakers.

BA: What do you hope that people will take from your art? What feelings do you hope to inspire in others?

KJL: I hope the audience will feel whatever it wants to feel; I do not have any very specific expectations for the audience. Obviously, my work evokes a certain energy in its form and color, so it may be hard not to get a sense of energy or dynamism from my work. I do want my audience to experience that energy; however, sometimes there is a quietness to my work. I would hope my audience would be able to experience that sense of calm, and see more than just the energy in my paintings.

BA: Thank you very much for your time!

KJL: You’re very welcome.

Kang Joo Lee’s Urban Layers will be on display at 2 Rules Fine Art (a new gallery to enter Atlanta’s art scene) through Saturday, April 28, 2012. The gallery, located at 85 Church Street in Marietta, Georgia, is open Mondays through Thursdays, from 11AM to 7PM, Fridays from 11AM to 8PM, and Saturdays from 11AM to 7PM.