The inspiration to create often comes from a landscape of dreams and memories, transforming ordinary moments into art. Jin Lee was motivated by a love of nature, building layers of life into her three-dimensional paper sculptures, capturing the timeless cycle of birth, growth, and death.
At first glance, the delicate white cutouts look abstract, with the seemingly careless swirls resembling the fine lines found on a leaf or a map. Stepping closer, you recognize hidden figures—a man swimming, a woman diving, or butterfly wings.
“Sometimes I hide them and sometimes they are obvious,” Lee says. She wants viewers “to see organic images that have the potential to grow”—much like a tree grows, withers, and dies.
“I expect them to feel the passage of time,” she says.
Much of Lee’s work is intertwined. She says she will often start one project while finishing another, with the last image affecting her process. “I draw the lines first on paper or on the computer,” she says. “Sometimes I layer them to see how the images emerge. I cut small figures to see how the large images emerge. It takes a long time.” One cutout figure takes about a day to make.
Although she’s been creating paper sculptures for almost six years, her reoccurring theme of nature was evident in her earlier work on canvas. “When I started with canvas, I didn’t have much freedom. I can do more things with this,” Lee says.
“I play with the idea that life forms develop in unexpected ways. I like to magnify that—the cycle of life. I want viewers to see the order of time, where it blooms and perishes,” she says.
Born in Seoul, South Korea, Lee knew she wanted to be an artist at an early age and began in earnest at 12—studying, drawing, and painting in middle and high school. After earning a BFA at Seoul National University, she came to the States and graduated from Pratt Institute, Brooklyn in 2002 with an MFA.
In Korea, she says, training is considered an important process for an artist. It was particularly important to learn how to draw well—a skill she still uses before she cuts out figures with an X-Acto knife. Many images can be found in previous work, whether on canvas or part of an installation. Her only criterion is that the forms be found in nature.
“I want the viewers to see the stages in life,” she says. “When I put up work or on a canvas, I want them to look at it as one work and to see the connections.”
Lee says her work starts with a dot or a line and grows, the way a single cell develops into a human being.
She works primarily in white: “If I layer with white, I get shadow. With color it looks flatter.” She chooses colors found in nature, preferring the gentle forest greens or the neutral gray of a rain sky. “When I add color,” she says, “I change the background.”
While her work seems restful, it draws energy from the moving figures.
“Even if I hide a person flying behind the layers, [viewers] always find it,” she says.
Images emerge and retract in the three-dimensional sculpture as one moves around the room, she says. Suspended in the air, the piece will shift with even the lightest breeze, accentuating a figure jogging or jumping in the water.
Lee is studying art and art education at the Teachers College at Columbia University. It will be another four years before she finishes her doctorate, and then she plans to teach. Like her art, she says, it’s all part of the process of “becoming.”JCM
Jin Lee: A Paper Landscape will show at the Jersey City Museum from Sept. 17, 2009-Feb. 23, 2010