Perrotin Hong Kong is pleased to present Paradigm of Charcoal, a solo exhibition from Korean artist Lee Bae, based in Paris, France, and Cheongdo, South Korea. It is Lee Bae's fourth solo exhibition with the gallery to visualize his decades-long affinity for employing charcoal as the artistic material and celebrate his experimental and contemporary approach to monochrome.
Lee has been employing charcoal rather than paint in his artistic practice since his move to Paris at the end of 1989, and this ubiquitous material that is deep-rooted in Korean culture allows him to reconnect with his heritage.
In Korean folk culture, charcoal is believed to possess the power to keep out evil forces and is sometimes offered as a deity gift in household rituals; in a practical perspective, charcoal is used during house construction as an effective dehumidifier. It is in this vein that Lee rediscovered peace and continued to create works of art using a material that symbolized his early days living in Paris and his motherland.
In this exhibition, Lee Bae’s minimal yet iconic Brushstroke series are showcased against dark grey walls. In this body of work, Lee employs charcoal in the form of ink painting, reinterprets classical practices of Korean calligraphy, and represents such a timeless genre in a contemporary and elegant approach. Lee employs the residue of powdered charcoal as ink; in quiet contemplation, he paints in one gestural stroke, or several, on the paper. He also masterfully leaves a great deal of white space in the work that signifies emptiness, or 'void', which is one of the essences in Korean art.
From early on, I was drawn to the evocative power of a specific medium and wanted to focus on its essence and place it at the center of my work. I never felt the need to use the figurative language which I think can be restrictive.
As he continued to explore and enhance his understanding of the medium, the artist encountered the narrative and historical references that charcoal retained. Lee takes a careful look into the powerful essence, its materiality, and the cycle of life and death that the material possesses. Charcoals produced in Lee’s kiln in Cheongdo are composed onto a canvas, which are then endlessly polished to become Issu du feu. The dense mass of polished charcoal shards finally reveals its immeasurable shades and spectrums of blackness.
The same process applies to the Landscape paintings. The charcoal layer is textured with a rough sandpaper to achieve a matt, powder-looking surface, which appears to be clashing into the void, accentuating the the materiality of the medium.
The work Landscape expresses a territory or the surface of continents by fixing charcoal on top of a flat surface. I wanted to create a space where charcoal, the chaos created by fire, and human sensibility could meet.
Born in 1956 in Cheongdo, South Korea
Lives and works between Paris, France and Seoul, South Korea
Lee Bae's work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at museums and institutions worldwide, including Wilmotte Foundation, Venice, Italy; Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul de Venice, France; Paradise Art Space, Incheon, South Korea; Musée des Beaux-Arts, Vannes, France; and Musée Guimet, Paris, France; and Phi Foundation, Montreal, Canada. Lee’s work is included in public collections, notably the National Museum of Contemporary Art (MMCA), Gwacheon, South Korea; Seoul Museum of Art (SEMA), Seoul, South Korea; Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul, South Korea; Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul de Vence, France; Musée Guimet, Paris, France; Musée Cernuschi, Paris, France; Privada Allegro Foundation, Madrid, Spain; and Baruj Foundation, Barcelona, Spain.
—More about the artist