Lee was born in Seoul, Korea in 1960. He attended Sunhwa Art High School and received a B.F.A. in Sumi-e painting and drawing from HongIk, University, Seoul, and an M.F.A. from the National University of Tokyo Arts and Sciences, Japan.
Lee was active in the resistance movement during the reign of South Korean military dictator President Park and lost many friends during the reign of terror leading up to Park’s assassination in 1979. Lee immigrated to Japan in 1988, where he would spend the next ten years establishing himself as a leading contemporary artist.
Lee has been featured in group and solo shows throughout museums and galleries in Japan and Korea, including the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and the Kawasaki City Museum. Since moving to New York in 1999, he has exhibited at the Sonoma Museum of Visual Arts, CA, the Hammond Museum, NY, the Korean Embassy, Washington, DC, the Japan American Art Association at the Tenri Gallery, NY, the International Art Festival Lantern of the East, Los Angeles, CA, and more.
Lee has lectured in Japanese and Korean universities on "Oriental Sensation and Neo-postmodernism" and "Contemporary Visual Art and Psychology." He is a tenured instructor of Sumi-e, oil painting and drawing at the Nakano Art Center, Japan, and currently teaches Sumi-e painting at the National Jewish Council Center, NY. He is a member of the New Century Artists, NY, the Japanese Artists Association, NY, the Korean Japanese Exchange Art Association, Tokyo, and the Japan International Art Group, Tokyo.
About the work
Jongwang Lee’s massive, liquid paintings, rendered with a complex and precise mixture of resin, oil paint and pigments, express the artist’s quest for a balance between the spiritual and the physical worlds. Examining the proverbial return to the womb, Lee paints human forms that float in a watery substance and inhabit a world before time.
Ironically, Lee’s spiritual quest has resulted in a series of sculptural paintings that evoke opulent, overgrown gemstones. One has the illusion of gazing deep into a cross-section of colored and decorated amber, peering into the past through layers of time.
While Lee’s recent work has a contemporary Pop Art sensibility-with its day glow colors and bold compositions-his influences are drawn from 5,000 years of Korean history. "My work is Oriental. I am influenced by Korean Sumi-e brush painting and Eastern philosophies, as well as by my experiences in the West," says the artist.
Lee begins each painting with an underpinning of a linear web. The lines act as a link to another place, bridging spiritual and earthly realms. Next, he layers the temperamental resin mixture with additional layers. The resin dries at various times, depending on the thickness of the paint mixture and how it is applied.
"I have wrestled with this devilish resin for nearly 20 years," says Lee. "After many experiments and many failings, I now know how to negotiate it."
My artwork is a visualization of man’s alienation from his soul in this highly materialistic, technological society.
My paintings are infused with symbolism drawn from 5,000 years of Korean history. In the past, Shamans used several kinds of rope placed around the ceremonial area to communicate with the soul world. The linear elements in my paintings echo the role of the Shaman’s ropes. They are a connection between the spirit world and reality. On another level, they represent a connection between people.
My grandmother was a famous Shaman in Korea. During my childhood I was deeply impacted by her performances and felt a strong contact with the spiritual world. This early experience has been an important source of inspiration for my art. Eastern philosophies and Western experiences have deeply influenced my work.
For six years I studied traditional Korean Sumi-e painting, learning from the old masters. Before that time, I had already begun to develop new techniques, experimenting with both oriental and western materials. Using a palette knife, a trowel and other less conventional tools, I have created my own original art form.
Moving to the US has felt like a rebirth for me. I believe many immigrants feel like this when they come to a new country, On one hand, I want to retreat to the familiar, safe, comfortable place of my own history and birth country, akin to returning to the womb. But, at the same time, I want to be reborn, in a sense, to enjoy the freedom and the cultural and political climate of the US.
I hope that my work encourages people to look within themselves and realize the unbelievable power of life and the dormant potential within each of us.
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