Like a master draughtsperson conveying the grandeur of a cathedral with a few strokes, Soo Im Lee, in her 2021 series of gouache works entitled Structures, defines architectures of space and atmospheres of hue with the lightest of touches. Background painting, like a palimpsest, almost disappears. Foregrounds are defined by darker lines that at once create clearly defined structures and register as being made by a brush which barely grazed the surface. In aggregate, the painted marks define spaces in danger of being brought down by gravity.
Soo Im Lee’s Hidden Places gouaches leave less an impression of gravity acting upon them and more give the sensation that the ground and color are pushing out into or pulling back from the viewer’s space. Here, as in Hidden Places 10, the angled, solidly painted marks are absorbed and revealed through the layers of the Hanji (Korean rice paper). Clear black and deep magenta appear in front of greys and blues and other strokes that become more and more faint. Some of the Hidden Places series are painted on both sides of the paper, and the marks on the back, visible from the work’s front, further accentuate the impression of colors fading into the distance.
In all Lee’s works, strokes of paint appear to wax and wane before the viewer’s eyes—any one work gives the impression of having just arrived at its current state and of being soon on its way to another. This holds both for the fragile verticality of the Structures series and for Lee’s offering of a bird’s eye view of layered surfaces and depths in the Hidden Places series.
SOO IM LEE lives and works in New York City. Born in Seoul, Korea in 1954, Lee studied painting at the progressive Hong-Ik University in the 1970s at height of minimalist, monochromatic painting’s presence. Lee came to the United States in 1981 to concentrate on printmaking studies and received her M.A. in Printmaking from New York University. Also recognized for her short story writings, Lee has been a long-time popular columnist for a major Korean language newspaper in the United States. Recent exhibitions include: Soo Im Lee: Across Time and Place, Art Projects International (2017); Marking 2, Art Projects International, NY (2016); Open (C)ALL: Up for Debate, BRIC, NY (2016); Coloring Time, Korean Cultural Service NY (2013); Intersecting Lines, Art Projects International, NY (2012); 911 Arts: A Decade Later, Commons Gallery, New York University (2011), Absence, Queens Museum of Art: Partnership Gallery, NY (2010); and Irrelevant, Arario Gallery, NY (2010).