Perrotin is pleased to present the fifth solo exhibition of Lee Bae at the gallery and the second in Paris. This time, Lee Bae has chosen to show five series of works as well as a large installation, all corresponding to his last twenty years of work.
We find the series Issu du feu, with its famous paintings made with pieces of charcoal; Landscape, defined by these large abstract landscapes radically separated into two spaces, one white, the other black; Untitled, composed of canvases designed with charcoal ink and acrylic medium. And we discover two new series, never before shown in France: the first, Brushstroke, composed of large-scale papers from which emerge shapes painted in charcoal ink; and the second, Issu du feu (White lines), characterized by pieces of charcoal on canvas topped with small white lines.
The ensemble reminds and highlights that—whatever the medium, the techniques, the disciplines—Lee Bae's work, since its beginnings in 1990, affirms the same purpose: the quest for black. Black in all its states, in all its forms, in all its lights, in all its depths and even sometimes in its reflections.
In Issu du feu, black—the blacks, we should say, as Lee Bae represents their range from deep black to almost light gray—evoked by the multiple pieces of charcoal that the artist juxtaposes and sticks together, reveals itself under multiple facets: he plays with its shine, with it iridescent effects, with its pearly aspects born from the impression of movements on the surface.
In Untitled it is the opposite: black is shown in its depths, born from the density of the charcoal ink used to draw shapes and heightened by the contrast with the white surfaces that define their outlines. Like a black hole, the tones of black pull the eye into endless perspectives.
Landscape series, whose geometric compositions are radical, sometimes like cliff edges, create an echo between black and white to further intensify their juxtaposition.
"Within the person doing calligraphy, there is a sense of passion towards reaching the very high nobleness. It is not a simple act of making art but it has long been connected to character and mentality."
In his recent large works on paper, Lee Bae puts movement in his blacks and deploys the gradations of their transparency. Contrary to the Untitled series where each shape is meticulously drawn several times superimposed, in Brushstroke, each shape or symbol drawn in charcoal ink is the result of a single gesture, without possibility of remorse and of an absolute brilliance that combines both mental concentration and corporeal control. Close to calligraphy, this writing, which in its way relates to a traditional method, testifies at the same time to a highly contemporary spirit and an immanent touch and presence.
For Issu du feu (White lines), Lee Bae resumes his compositions with pieces of charcoal, but he forms a pattern and punctuates them on the surface with small lines in white oil pastel, like commas on a blackboard. In this way, he puts black in the background and gives it even more perspective.
Finally, in his installations, always made with burnt wood or charcoal, Lee Bae puts black in relief. He puts it in a ball, in a bundle, or in a point to show that black can also be perceived as modeled, as protuberance. And that whatever its aspect, this color with its innumerable nuances allows him to speak about time, space, energy, body, soul. And thus, about life.
“In my imagination, charcoal would be the last material remaining on the surface of the earth had the apocalypse occurred.”
Born in 1956 in Cheongdo, South Korea
Lives and works between Paris, France and Seoul, South Korea
Lee Bae’s monochromatic practice is a formal and immersive journey into the abysses of blackness. Subtly blurring the lines between drawing, painting, sculpture, and installation, he has developed his abstract aesthetics across categories to imbue the noncolor with tangible depth and intensity. Until the early-2000s, he worked exclusively with raw charcoal to create minimal, refined, mosaic-like assemblages of charred wooden shards or chunks on canvas, as well as larger sculptural arrangements of carbonized trunks. Charcoal, obtained by burning wood and used to revive fire, offers a powerful metaphor for the cycle of life that has further inspired him to expand his exploration to include the fourth dimension of time. While he has moved on to solely working with carbon black, a substance close to soot, Lee Bae’s latest series of pictorial works crystallizes random elemental gestures, which he practices beforehand with India ink on paper, into thick layers of translucent acrylic medium resembling wax.