Hyung Mo Lee – A Witness to Change

  • 04/03/2015
  • Andrea Serna

By Andrea Serna, Arts and Culture Writer

On a windy bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Hyung Mo Lee works diligently, experimenting with materials found on the hills outside his studio.

The artist’s work is on display at the Los Angeles Harbor College Fine Arts Gallery in an exhibition titled Lessons Learned. Curated by gallery director Ron Linden, it is on view through April 24.

“Much of my work is about the act of making, with improvisations and the surprises that arise during the making of the work,” said Lee in his artist statement. “I like to view it as an open-ended process where one action influences the next, step by step leading into new directions. In my work there is a continual change and a willingness to let go so that change can occur. Eventually, the work evolves and transforms into something unpredicted, and I’m sort of like a witness to these multiple changes during the making of the work.”

Lee’s drawings, sculptures and installations are notable for their radical choice of materials and emphasis on laborious, time-consuming process. His sumi ink drawings, both delicate and dynamic, are meditations on geologic time–strata rendered brush-stroke by brush-stroke–while his sculptural works expand on lessons learned from drawing.

“These things are not unlike Jay McCafferty’s obsessive solar burning of little pinholes,” Linden said during a recent walk-through of his gallery.

Linden was referring to Jay McCafferty, an artist of international renown for his pioneering of the “process art” movement that emerged in the late 1960s. He’s primarily known for his solar burn compositions created with a magnifying lens on a variety of surfaces along plotted grid intersections.

The quality of Lee’s work emphasizes clarity, simplification, reduced means and reduction of things like form and composition. A juxtaposition of elements is created from mud, spackle and glue. When exhibited alongside laboriously-created works of fine ink on paper, it provides an insight into a deeply creative process.

The central piece of the exhibition is a 6-foot long sculpture called “Substitute.” It consists of long flowing thread, hanging from a metal frame, held together with mud and glue, and left out in the Hollywood Hills to be weathered by the elements. The piece is both muscular and tender. It seems determined to face what may come, but is showing the effects of time.

Our first glimpse of Lee’s work was in 2013 at Angel’s Ink Gallery in downtown San Pedro. The artist is known to create a thousand strokes with a brush trimmed down to a single goat’s hair. Curator Robin Hinchliffe remembers the response from viewers as “Whoa, look at this!”

“That response came as well from many sophisticated artists and gallerists looking in the windows before the show opened and from groups of otherwise casual visitors exploring downtown on First Thursday openings,” she said. “It is at once compelling and serene, awe-inspiring and immediately accessible.”

Lee spends his days surrounded by art at the Orange County Museum of Art. As an art installer and occasional security guard, he finds inspiration within the walls of the museum.

“It’s nice to be around the art and to be able to look at art all day,” Lee said. “I think [when you are] spending time with it, day by day, it filters in. Returning to a certain work of art and coming back again each day, it is inspiring–but it just doesn’t pay well.”

Lee grew up in Southern California with parents who inspired him to read, write and express his creativity. His father is a writer and Lee has fond memories of spending weekends with him digging through crates of books at swap meets in search of paperback novels that sold for 25 cents each. Today, Lee also devotes time to writing poetry and participating in local poetry readings.

As a relief from the ink drawings, which sometimes take as much as six months to complete, Lee “makes gunk” from mud in the hills near his studio at Angels Gate Cultural Center.
He mixes glue, paint, plaster and spackle to produce work that is almost diametrically opposed to the ink drawings. Sometimes he molds the muddy gunk on cardboard or newspaper. A heat gun helps to hold the gunk together.

For those interested in learning about Lee’s process, the fine art gallery at Harbor College is hosting a Q & A with the artist April 15 at 1 p.m.

Lee’s work is also on view at LA Artcore Brewery Annex in downtown Los Angeles. The three-person exhibit, Black and White, runs through April 8.

You will also have a chance to visit Lee’s small, muddy studio on the windy bluff, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, during the Angels Gate Open Studios Day on April 26. The Angels Gate Cultural Center is at 3601 S. Gaffey St., San Pedro.

Details: (310) 600-4873
Venue: LAHC Fine Arts Gallery
Location: 1111 Figueroa Place, Wilmington

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Andrea Serna is a freelance writer and Wikipedia editor living and working in San Pedro.

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