Emerging Selection 2012: US/Korean artist Michelle Jane LEE


Drawings, Painting and Installations

Born in Seoul, Korea
Lives and Works in Los Angeles, CA

Her website: https://www.michellejanelee.com
Michelle Jane LEE Interview

Michelle Jane LEE is a very young and determined artist. She has already developed a large palette of art vocabulary, with a specific codification to write secret love letters that no one else knows. The body of work already delivered make us thrilled to know about next work.




Michelle Jane LEE Interview
BCh: Part of your work is made of little colorful squares. What are they?

Michelle Jane LEE: Each color square represents a letter in the (English) alphabet. It’s a rather simple code. 26 letters, 26 colors.

BCh: How did you get that idea of telling stories that way?

Michelle Jane LEE:The color-coded letter series came from a very personal place. I fell into something I never felt before. I didn’t really know what to do but I knew I needed it out of me.  So I developed the code. It was a way to confess everything, tell this very personal narrative, behind a veil.

I find just through the colors the viewer is able to have a very immediate and emotive experience with the pieces. Which is so important for this series.

BCh: Can you explain your process for these drawings with squares?

Michelle Jane LEE: First I grid out the paper by hand with a ruler and a pencil. Then I write in the squares in English. After the text is written in I “translate” the writing into color. It’s a three step process that’s quite work and time intensive. I love the obsessive nature of this process. It’s also quite meditative, which I found was crucial in working through a project that was so intense emotionally for me.

BCh: About the drawings with those houses full of water, what is it?

Michelle Jane LEE: I once asked a friend where her favorite place to be was. She said “underwater.” To float, was to be safe for her (and I think for so many of us.) I wanted to create this space for her where she could perpetually float in. So came these houses full of water. And just to make sure it’s safer than safe, I floated the houses that contain the water into the air. So you get to, as I like to say, double-float. Then stories came from it and the floating houses became a bit more complex. They began to not only communicate with the viewer but with each other. There are some houses that spill over, some pass water from one to the other, etc.

BCh: More generally, what do you find with pencil on paper you don’t find with oil or acrylic on canvas

Michelle Jane LEE: There’s an immediacy I love. It’s far less forgiving than paint, it’s a challenge and there’s something wonderful about that, and extremely frustrating too of course. But this tension creates a wonderful foundation to start from. I began as an oil painter and I still have a profound love for the medium. But once I discovered pencil on paper, something just clicked. A big part of it is that it’s much better suited to express my ideal aesthetic which is very minimal. I was always trying to strip things away in my oil paintings but they were always still a little too much. “Less” excites me so much more than, “more.” The complexity that can be explored within simplicity is astonishing and it’s a world I want to continue examining.

BCh: When I look at your astonishing, delicate and obsessive work, I see also a long-lasting tradition of Asian art (Michelle Jane LEE is half Korean, half American). I mean, the real good traditional Asian art is made of almost the same topic but expressed more and more deeply by the artist, with his/her body, with his/her soul.
And I feel  that your work contains that Asian tradition mixed with the abstract contemporary codification. What do you think of this interpretation of your work?

Michelle Jane LEE: This is such an interesting question because it’s one i’ve been asking myself as well. I’ve realized in the past few years so much of the work I found interesting and was attracted to were being made by Asian artists. There is the underlying theme of simplicity, the minimalist aesthetic and quite often a superb delicacy. And of course my work had become something that seemed to fit in perfectly.

It wasn’t a conscious transition or a decision but I don’t think it’s one that could be ignored when looking at my work. I don’t focus on this interpretation of my work (or other Asian artists’ works) but I don’t think it’s a negative one by any means. In the way intuition can be such a powerful and valid tool, there is a reason for this even if inexplicable for the time being.  It’s certainly a great company to be in, especially with emerging art influence of the Asian art world and Asian artists in the mainstream contemporary art.

January 2012