If you’re hanging around the city this week (New York City, that is) and looking for something lovely to look at, you should head on over to Opera Gallery on Madison Avenue.
The gallery is celebrating the opening of two highly anticipated new exhibitions—one by Chae Sung-Pil, and the other by Lee Gil Rae.
Both artists hail from Korea, and together, their exhibitions form an intriguing experience designed to explore a cultural exchange through nature-inspired sculptures and contemporary paintings.
Chae Sung-Pil’s exhibit, entitled The History of Blue, takes viewers on a journey through a spectrum of blue-hued pigments and soil, expressing eternal hope and purity. Lee Gil Rae will present a unique series of spiralling branch sculptures, called Pine Tree, which are comprised solely of copper and are meant to simulate nature.
I recently had the chance to ask each artist a few questions about their work and their new shows:
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
Chae Sung-Pil: I was born and raised in Jindo, the largest of South Korea’s islands. In my late teenage years, I went to study fine art in Seoul. There, I began practising retreat and solitude. This is where I understood the importance of keeping in touch with earth and I developed a deep relationship with nature that guides me to this day in my most important life decisions. Currently, I reside in Paris working only with natural materials, mostly various types of soil, which I use as paint.
Lee Gil Rae: I graduated from Kyunghee University after studying in the department of art education and received my master’s degree in the discipline of sculpture. For 20 years, I used nature as my muse and crafted sculptures from steel and copper pipes.
With rapid deforestation, my trees narrate the artificial nature that city dwellers so closely identify with. I have participated in several exhibitions in Korea, the United States, and Japan, and my work is part of several numerous permanent collections.
What were some of the inspirations behind ‘The History of Blue’ and ‘Pine Tree’?
Chae Sung-Pil: For this exhibit, I reflected on the present world from the perspective of the cultural history of the colour “blue”. I focus on creating the future of blue in art by going beyond the boundary of conventional blue and presenting a new dimension of that colour as part of our reality.
The colour blue is used throughout the history of mankind from antiquity to present, as it represents certain so many cultural meanings. Through my reflection on the colour and its historical and cultural contexts, I was able to build a new world of blue, an ideal that lives beyond borders or boundaries.
Lee Gil Rae: I like to approach the shape of natural objects with repetitive accumulation. In a way, pine trees are the ubiquitous face of our forests because they put down roots in every mountain and stream. I attempt to reflect their strength and vitality through my work.
The shape of the trees could be seen as emblematic of Mother Nature’s generous and abundant embrace translated into the oriental mise-en-scène. I want to fully express the dynamic energy of nature and her organisms here within my pieces.
Can you tell us a bit about your process? How does each piece come together?
Chae Sung-Pil: My style of painting comes from a coincidental revelation. One day my wife accidentally dropped a bowl of soup, and the liquid spilled onto one of my canvases, leaving the mark of several delicate drops. From the moment I saw it a light bulb instantly went off and I thought, “This is how I will paint”.
From there, an entire lifework of art was built around this singular and subtle approach to the medium. I am constantly inspired by earth and my palette contains soil, washed-out, filtered, or purged, from all over the world. I utilize this as a fundamental expression of hope for the eternal purity through the medium of soil.
Lee Gil Rae: Pictorial plasticity, which is the working process of connecting copper pipe in a similar manner to the breath of the brush touch in oriental painting. The idea is for the trees to remain strong and vital even when barren of foliage, so what remains is the fundamental structure of the object, one based on symbolic recognition of its natural form. Through the process, the copper pipe is expanded and multiplied, as with the trunk of a tree.
The meeting of these exquisite forms is an expression of transformation and metamorphosis; from the natural physical properties of a natural plant form into something at home in the mechanical modern world.
The new exhibition is designed to be two bodies of work that stand individually but ultimately complement and enhance one another. Tell us about how that came to be, and how you’ve found the experience.
Chae Sung-Pil: Even though we use different approaches and mediums, both of us draw inspiration from nature. In a way, the exhibit also comes together as a celebration of our Korean heritage. Through this presentation, we explore cultural exchange through nature-inspired sculptures and contemporary paintings.
What are you working on next?
Chae Sung-Pil: I am preparing for my upcoming show to be held at Opera Gallery Paris next year. The new series of work will be more expressive and inspired by Korean traditional ink painting. The work will feature more gestures and figuration than the abstract paintings I am showing in this current exhibition. As always, I am true to nature and to the materials it provides.
Lee Gil Rae: Right now, I am combining my early works with the soil series and my current working method, and working to create large drawings.
Many thanks to both Chae Sung-Pil and Lee Gil Rae for taking the time to chat with us.
The History of Blue by Chae Sung-Pil and Lee Gil Rae’s Pine Tree will both be on display at Opera Gallery NY from Wednesday, November 15, until Tuesday, December 5.
Opera Gallery New York is located at 791 Madison Avenue, New York, NY, 10065.
For more information about Opera Gallery, the exhibition and opening hours, visit operagallery.com.