▲ Paper artist Lee Eun Hee shapes hanji (Korean traditional paper) into unique artworks, many of which are wearable. Photos by Kim Gyong Ho, left, and Buffy Hawke, right
Picture the beauty of Jeju Island on any given day -the howl of the wind as it rushes through the barley fields, the fresh citrus scent of a recently peeled tangerine or the feel of wet soil under your feet on a rainy day. Paper artist Lee Eun Hee finds inspiration in such simple moments. For her, they reveal clarity in life that she captures through her art. No place other than Jeju Island can fill her with such creativity, she said. It is her home and her birthplace; it is the soul of her pieces.
“I want people to feel comfortable when they look at my art,” Lee said as she poured green tea in the tea house attached to her gallery on a clear Sunday morning in April. (There is also a restaurant on the site.) Not a conventional artist by any means, Lee said that she has no particular message or agenda that she wants her art to convey. On the contrary, she wants her audience to be at ease and it is their spiritual connection with her work and the environment that drives her to create abstract shapes in earthy colors.
Throughout her studio, you find decorative art works, garments resembling those from a traditional Korean wardrobe, lamps, patterned blankets and even raincoats all constructed from hanji, or traditional Korean paper. Stepping into the room brings about the kind of meditational solace you usually only find in nature, away from the stressors of modern life. It’s as if you have entered a forest of color rather than a gallery of art. The pieces require no effort to be understood; one needs only to breathe in their beauty.
▲ Photo by Kim Gyong Ho
Lee did not begin her career as an artist until she was 38 years old. She said that it was only then that she looked inside herself and discovered her talent. She is a very spiritually connected woman and feels strongly about her work. As she walked across her studio, she stated, “I never majored in art, never took classes about it. This is what allows my work to be so close to my heart.”
With little influence from conventional artistic methods, Lee has managed to produce organic pieces that capture the emotions of tranquility and serenity. Her art is purely a product of her life spent trying to understand nature.
Lee grows tree varieties that can be made into hanji, and collects berries, fruits and soil to use as her dyes. As all of the materials are organic, she stressed the importance of respecting their limits and restraining from force. While pointing to a delicate sheet of hanji that floated fragilely above her head, she said, “In order to produce paper that is strong enough to hold the texture, you have to have respect for the paper.” The hanji cannot be forced to become something that it is not willing to be, she added.
Respect for the earth and natural resources is a recurrent theme in Lee’s work and is one of the things that makes her unique as an artist. She said that in order to create her type of art, “You have to have honesty.” Rather than force her ideas on the paper, she said she listens to the material and only kneads the shapes and textures that it will yield. Her projects are both products of her inner-self and an expression of her mind-body connection with the world.
▲ Photo by Kim Gyong Ho
Lee’s paper creations can be viewed at her gallery and her newest collection will feature at an exhibition at Jeju Stone Park when its gallery reopens after renovations. The gallery will be open from July 1 but the exhibition dates are not yet finalized.
Tamna Mumun restaurant and Un Ji Kwan gallery 1712-1 Odeung-dong, Jeju City Tel: 064-747-5858 www.tamnamm.com
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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