New York

Kyung-Lim Lee

Sigma Gallery

Kyung-Lim Lee investigates the legacy of abstraction through the filter of Asian and American cultures. The paintings and drawings in her most recent show reflected a concern with series and process, but they also depended on her appropriation of Chinese characters. For works such as Circle and Ellipse #2, 1993, Ellipse #1, 1991, and Trapezoid, 1991, Lee began with a Chinese-Korean dictionary, selecting ten characters of the ten-stroke type. Working with the written Chinese and its direct Korean translation, she set about exploring the meaning of each character from a personal perspective, devising charts and diagrams to record the duality inherent in ideographic structure.

As a group, the characters denoted a whole range of things from the concrete to the abstract—from body, skull, fighting, leaping, and chignon to spirit, ghost, empty, high, and melancholy. For Lee, the character for chignon not only is a female symbol associated with the traditional hairstyle of young female servants in Korea, but also recalls the geometry of Ellipse #1. With its wavy folds, the quasi-organic ellipse was suggestive of the natural world.

What makes Lee’s work spring to life is her assured handling of materials—graphite, pencil, ink, acrylic, oil, and watercolor—that animate her imagery, lending her forms a compelling vitality. This quality is readily apparent in Circle and Ellipse #2, a triptych in pencil and ink that has the monumental presence of a painting. As with her other works, the contrast between the soft ellipse and crisp circle creates a chain of cosmic associations that point toward an almost religious preoccupation with the cycles of the sun and moon.

Ronny Cohen