Korean-American artist Arthur Kwon Lee draws inspiration from myth


"All and Everything" by Arthur Kwon Lee / Courtesy of Filo Sofi Arts


By Kwon Mee-yoo

Arthur Kwon Lee, a martial artist-turned-visual artist, uses vivid and vibrant colors and dynamic br


ushstrokes to reinterpret imagery from classical Greco-Roman and East Asian culture.


Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Lee opened solo exhibition "Hermitage" at Filo Sofi Arts in New York, which was scheduled to run from July to August, but has now been converted to a digital show and extended to reach a wider audience.


Despite the title "Hermitage," the works on view are strong and intense. The notion of hermitage implies isolation and inward introspection, but for the artist it more emanates outwards.


"I am a contrast ― I am making the sacred accessible to the modern minded by painting the spiritual under a color scheme that has a certain pop art sensibility," he said in an e-mail interview with The Korea Times.


"What all of the artworks on display share is a cohesive theme in the light of philosophical dialogue, they function as a transcendental mirror where the repository of our cultural history and the range of intersectionalities juxtaposed take flight."


"The hallmark masterpiece of 'Hermitage' is the painting titled 'All and Everything.' Needless to say the art work is a fusion of historical references and painting methodologies juxtaposed onto a single canvas. Additionally the positioning of the individual figures and quality of articulation function formalistically as a 10-Mona-Lisas-in-one situation, where a genuine desire to express some of our deepest philosophical convictions presents itself on the canvases."


Lee took part in an online opening ceremony in July with Filo Sofi Arts' founder Gabrielle Aruta and curator Donovan Irven to discuss his artistic world.


"The virtual premiere was fabulous... As Marshall McLuhan coined 'The medium is the message.' By exhibiting virtually, attendees get a chance to analyze qualities that commonly are glanced over during a physical opening, especially when in conversation with an individual as sharp and collected as Irven," Lee said.


However, the artist clearly recognizes the impact of the novel coronavirus in the world of art.


"I'm old school. There is nothing better than a bricks and mortar solo exhibition in person with a full house of creatives and collectors ― having said that I believe COVID-19 is going to change the game indefinitely. It's going to be a mixture of both, moving forward, and they have different strengths and weaknesses." he said.


"En Garde Caligula" by Arthur Kwon Lee / Courtesy of Filo Sofi Arts


His interesting career shift is influenced by his background. As his parents put him into taekwondo classes when he was young, in which he showed talent and won competitions, Lee said his heart was attracted to deeper things even during his athletic phase.


"In combat we stand between that which we proclaim to be sacred and that which desires to take it away, and in painting we go directly to the source and animate the very sacrilegious notion itself," Lee said.


"As a Korean-American child of two cultures I always felt an advantage in understanding cultural relativity due to the blatant differences of traditional assumptions comparatively between the United States and South Korea. I believe I was imprinted or destined to produce art based on this fusion, this only furthered in art school where I was interested in sharing my experiences with ego death ― invariably being led to existential conversations between Eastern and Western philosophy."


Lee continues to widen his creative horizons, exploring new ideas and digging deeper into previous themes.


"I am split between creating a new biblical series based on recent readings on Christian Apologetics and related conversations with my father, who is the president of the Council of Korean Churches in District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia, and continuing to excavate the rabbit hole of Jungian imagery. However I sometimes just need a break from that stuff ― it gets frighteningly deep."


There might be a chance to see his artworks in Korea sometime later.


"I do have a desire to exhibit in South Korea however my work is definitely atypical in regards to the Korean contemporary painting scene. As usual, I am uncommon amongst the uncommon but I do have plans to exhibit in Korea next year and am deeply interested in how the motherland will respond," he said.

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