Note: This exhibition is scheduled to close on 7/8/07.
The San Jose Museum of Art is presenting surveys of drawings by two immigrants to the United States whose lives couldn’t have been more different, but whose work shares an obsessive quality that is integral to their remarkable achievements. Art enthusiasts, even those who live far from San Jose, will be rewarded for making the trek to downtown San Jose.
In his Brooklyn studio, Korean artist Il Lee creates abstractions on paper (and more recently on canvas) by drawing with cheap, disposable ballpoint pens. A couple of years ago, Lee switched from black to blue pens (because the manufacturer discontinued his favorite black pen), but now uses either color. He has explored a range of sizes—small, large, and very large.
Lee was born in Seoul, Korea in 1952 and relocated to Manhattan in 1977. He received his MFA from Pratt Institute in New York and began the long, difficult process of finding himself as an artist. His use of ballpoint pens has developed gradually over a 25-year period. Interest in his work has flourished in the past decade.
The drawings are an idiosyncratic blend of Minimalism and gesture. The recording of gesture is energetic but does not seem especially expressionistic. Rather, the work emphasizes the formal qualities of gesture. The enormous amount of work required for these drawings is not immediately apparent, and then it hits you. There are large solid areas of color that have been made by endless overlapping movements of the pen. But the gift is not in the labor but in the amazingly vibrant results.
The exhibit was organized by SJMA senior curator JoAnne Northrup. There is an excellent catalog—at a very reasonable price.
I did not make prior arrangements with the museum to take photos, so I am unable to show individual images of my favorite drawings. But an installation shot (from the museum website) is shown above.
See the next posting for information about the second exhibition.