Oct 19, 2013 - Nov 24, 2013

Gabrielle Wu Lee: The Art of Dynamic Expressionism

Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts

                                 Gabrielle Wu Lee, MD, MFA (1935-2010)                                                                          Text by Paul Z. Lee, PhD (1937- )

The Art of Gabrielle Wu Lee's Dynamic Expressionism
by Paul Z. Lee, PhD (1937- )

Visual art has its own language, which keeps evolving. In addition to our own intuition, and our participation in art activities, the teachings from art history, art philosophy, aesthetics, art critique and art education are necessary and essential to deepen and broaden our appreciation of visual art and to learn its language. On the one hand, the historical innovations of visual language have been closely connected with general history, with different civilizations, with the life and background of the individual artist, and with other forms of art, such as music, poetry, and literature. On the other hand, too much ‘history,’ ’knowledge’ and too many ‘references’ could ruin or paralyze the imagination, especially when we see a body of truly excellent, innovative artworks, and our visual excitement and appreciation produced by the creativity and audacity of the artist should not be suppressed.
Gabrielle Wu Lee’s own words are a vivid reminder of her engagement with the physical world on a spiritual level: “Upheaving mountains and deepening canyons, pounding waves and deafening waterfalls, subliming mist and swirling clouds, shimmering aspens and stretching oaks, head-whirling ecstasy and heart-breaking sorrow, day and night, Winter and Summer, hope and frustration, failure and success . . . I am always overwhelmed by the everlasting movement and change—the manifestation of energy and life. While creating the painting series of Speed and Rhythm my motif strives to express, on a two-dimensional surface, the four-dimensional relationship of interacting movements and the dynamic beauty of the living world through flowing emotion, whether adagio or presto, subtle or explosive, chaotic or rhythmic.”


Gabrielle Wu Lee, Deep Blue Pacific, 2009, oil on canvas, 36 x 96 inches.

Gabrielle Wu Lee, Field of Colors, 2006, oil on canvas, 36 x 39 inches. Collection of Bil Myers.

Gabrielle Wu Lee, The Moonlight / Clair de Lune, 1999, oil on canvas, 42 x 90.5 inches.

“The moonlight turns the world mysterious, fluidic and romantic. In Chinese as well as in western culture, especially in poetry, the moon is often depicted as feminine; her light is softening, soothing, gentle, loving, flowing and nostalgic. From Ludwig van Beethoven’s Mondscheinsonate (Moonlight Sonata) to Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune (Light of the Moon), humanity is blessed with the beauty of music on moonlight—a physical visual subject transformed by its passage into audio art. Gabrielle’s painting genius expresses the rolling waves under the flooding moonlight in her loving heart; it is a painting that plays the poetic music of the moonlight back in terms of Dynamic Expressionism. The painting was selected in 1999 for the Biennale Internazionale dell'Arte Contemporanea, in Florence, Italy.”—PZL

Gabrielle Wu Lee, Southwest Travel Log: Red Mountain Parade / Upheaving Red Mountain, 1984, enamel on canvas, 48 x 80 inches.

“After a couple weeks of running in our geology field camp, we were driving the van with students across the Southwestern black basalt plateau, the Rio Grande Canyon: all we had seen were blue sky, white clouds, green slopes and white snow mountain caps. All of a sudden, there was a range of mesmerizing bright-red rocks parading along the side of the highway, against the vast blue, green and white background. That was Red Mountain, Colorado.”—PZL

Gabrielle Wu Lee, Niagara Rhapsody, 1983, oil on seven canvas panels (relief), 72 x 92 inches.

“The first natural wonder in America that Gabrielle and I wanted to see was Niagara Falls (summer 1983) and this resulting work is the first relief painting Gabrielle created. Her major professor Trevor Bell commented that she deserved the credit of inventing multiple-panel relief painting. Gabrielle’s intention was to reproduce the edges of rugged rock formations where the water roars over, and to simulate the shadowing and changeable effect and texture of the waterfalls. The sensational display of the waterfall, its dynamic of visual, audio and emotional impact reminded Gabrielle of a symphonic rhapsody, a natural music realized in the rugged, powerful, energetic, enduring and colorful landscape. Her unusual and innovative technique is evident: metallic and pigment-based oil paints together, mixed or unmixed, depending on her intention. In contrast to the traditional use of gold foil, Gabrielle’s fusion of metallic and conventional pigments provided far richer flexibility of expression and more degrees of freedom.”—PZL

Gabrielle Wu Lee, Sonata Pathétique in Memory of My Parents, 1983, oil on five canvas panels (relief), 72 x 92 inches.

“This work was painted in memory of her dear parents—Professor Ignatius Yun-Rui Wu, who was persecuted and died for his belief in God, and Theresa Lee Wu, who was persecuted and died only one month before Gabrielle and I left China to go to the United States. Sorrow and suffering have inspired the greatest arts, evoked the strongest sentiments . . . Great works of art affirm life, and give hope and lift our souls.”—PZL

Gabrielle Wu Lee, Sonata Appassionata, 1983, oil on five canvas panels (relief), 72 x 92 inches.

“Classical music is perhaps one of the most abstract forms of expression that human beings could ever create, yet closely followed by inspired visual art. The music created by Ludwig van Beethoven turned music passages and notes, beautiful and compelling, into intense emotion . . . Gabrielle reached such lofty heights that time and emotion expressed in her paintings are no longer frozen images, but are dynamic and alive, the flight of her own Muse.”—PZL

Gabrielle Wu Lee, L’Aurora, My Childhood, 1985, oil on three canvas panels (relief), 72 x 100 inches.

Gabrielle Wu Lee, Hurricane Kate—from Space, on Land, in Sea, 1986, oil on three canvas panels (relief), 72 x 120 inches.

“Hurricane Kate, in mid-November 1986, passed to the west of Tallahassee, where we lived in the Alumni Village of Florida State University; it was the latest season major Atlantic hurricane to hit the United States. We saw its approach on the satellite image, then the center of the hurricane moved through Tallahassee. A few days later, since my dissertation research was on coastal processes, I took a trip to St. George Island where the hurricane had landed, to observe the damages and changes that happened to the coastal zone, including highway 98, which was washed away in certain sections, and the causeway bridge, of which half of the main span had collapsed. I drove through on the remaining west half side of the bridge span, perilously hanging in midair, to reach the island and I was then totally surprised by the flattened sand dunes which were originally about twenty feet high before the hurricane. Gabrielle painted the overwhelming power of the hurricane with striking textures and compositions on three relief panels; she expressed the awesome heart-shaking experience of this event in her life and in the lives of everyone. She used the hurricane as a metaphor of fateful human history and the impact of tumultuous events.”—PZL

Gabrielle Wu Lee, Stormy Sunset, 1984, oil on canvas, 48 x 80 inches.

“In the summer of 1984, as a PhD candidate, I was assigned to be an instructor for the FSU geology field course in New Mexico. The field course lasted 6 weeks and we were stationed in Taos, New Mexico, but covered many geological sites in the Southwest. Gabrielle followed the geology crew the entire time and visited some places that ordinary tourists would never go. After the trip, she completed many paintings to express her experiences. Each of these paintings was a serious research project depicting the dynamic earth and her emotional responses. Some of these paintings were displayed in her 1985 solo art exhibition at the Florida Capitol in the Gallery on the twenty-second floor where she installed her Master of Fine Arts thesis exhibition. In the opening reception, Dr. James Tull, the Chairman of the Department of Geology at Florida State University, commented that Gabrielle had yielded the richest research harvest through the geology camp of any of the geology scholars.”—PZL

Gabrielle Wu Lee, Southwest Travel Log: Rio Grande Canyon, New Mexico, 1984, enamel on canvas, 48 x 80 inches.

“To deepen the Rio Grande Canyon, running water has been cutting down the thick horizontal layers of dark continental flood basalt platform through thousands of years, up to the present and will continue to carve away into the future. The violent and ever-dynamic interchange between the seemingly soft—yet persistently aggressive— streams and rivers and the solid and stubbornly resistant rock makes it difficult for anyone to choose which side is more admirable.”—PZL

Gabrielle Wu Lee, Genesis I:I, 1985, oil on canvas (relief), left and right panels of diptych, 6 x 8 feet (16 feet overall width).

“Viewers will note that there seems to be a glowing reddish light emanating from between the top and lower panels, like the rising sun introduced by a glow at the horizon. Gabrielle painted the top ledges of the protruded lower panels magenta. When the lighting of the gallery reflects up from the ledge to the metallic golden sky of the upper panels, it creates this premeditated optical effect . . . The upper panels depict the newborn sky full of light that was just split from the lower part of the roaring ocean. It shows the explosive power, the energy, the massive material involved in the grand first moment of the existence of the universe.”—PZL

Gabrielle Wu Lee, Genesis I:I, 1985, oil on canvas (relief), left panel of diptych, 6 x 8 feet (16 feet overall width).

“Viewers will note that there seems to be a glowing reddish light emanating from between the top and lower panels, like the rising sun introduced by a glow at the horizon. Gabrielle painted the top ledges of the protruded lower panels magenta. When the lighting of the gallery reflects up from the ledge to the metallic golden sky of the upper panels, it creates this premeditated optical effect . . . The upper panels depict the newborn sky full of light that was just split from the lower part of the roaring ocean. It shows the explosive power, the energy, the massive material involved in the grand first moment of the existence of the universe.”—PZL

Gabrielle Wu Lee, Genesis I:I, 1985, oil on canvas (relief), right panel of diptych, 6 x 8 feet (16 feet overall width).

“Viewers will note that there seems to be a glowing reddish light emanating from between the top and lower panels, like the rising sun introduced by a glow at the horizon. Gabrielle painted the top ledges of the protruded lower panels magenta. When the lighting of the gallery reflects up from the ledge to the metallic golden sky of the upper panels, it creates this premeditated optical effect . . . The upper panels depict the newborn sky full of light that was just split from the lower part of the roaring ocean. It shows the explosive power, the energy, the massive material involved in the grand first moment of the existence of the universe.”—PZL

Gabrielle Wu Lee, Wakulla Springs Myth, 1986, oil on four polygonal canvas panels (relief), 72 x 96 x 4 inches.

Wakulla Springs Myth: “Wakulla Springs is the crown jewel of Florida. It is the world’s longest and deepest underwater cave system pouring out 200 million gallons of water daily through a funnel-shaped vertical spring eye to form a river running to the Gulf of Mexico. A crystal clear, mirror-like pool on top of the Springs reflects the passing clouds and the blue sky. Water plants bow and wave within the rapid flow of water. Alligators and waterfowl make their homes in the river on its unique islands of Cyprus knees and floating water-plants. The limestone formation has been leached white, visible through the 190-foot depth of spring water. The eye of the springs gazes up from underneath the water surface. All around the forest, the wildlife, and the crystal-clear rushing spring looks just like the original Garden of Eden. This is a live creature with a big heart and abundant love to give. ‘Wakulla’ in the local Native American language means ‘Mystery.’ Gabrielle’s painting is a four-layer relief: each layer is made of a polygonal panel and all layers combined form a rectangular painting. The top layer depicts the racing clouds on the reflecting pool, the second layer the waving water plants, the third layer the limestone formation, and finally the deep, mysterious eye of the outpouring springs. It took Gabrielle more than four years to complete the painting to the point that she herself felt satisfied. Gabrielle and I visited Wakulla Springs the first time on Thanksgiving Day in 1982, just two months after we had come to the United States. New Friends came to pick us up at our student apartment; they then invited us to lunch and drove us to Wakulla Springs. We were both deeply impressed, attracted and fascinated by the wild grandeur of the mysterious and beautiful Springs—a miraculous place, in both scientific and artistic aspects.”—PZL

Gabrielle Wu Lee, Iceland Revelations: Snow Storm over the Blue Lagoon, 1994, oil on canvas (relief), 72 x 96 inches.

“The lagoon pool is comprised of warm after-process water from the geothermal power plant. The unique bluish-colored flow in the lagoon gives a gentle touch to the rough and tough life in Iceland; it is a beauty created by austere nature and human technology.”—PZL

Gabrielle Wu Lee, Iceland Revelations: The Birth of Iceland, 1994, oil on canvas (relief), 77 x 98 inches.
Center painting of a three-painting installation: Snow Storm over the Blue Lagoon, Aurora upon the Vatnajokull Glacier, and The Birth of Iceland.
Photo credit: Jon Nalon

Gabrielle Wu Lee, Iceland Revelations: Aurora upon the Vatnajokull, 1994, oil on canvas (relief), 72 x 96 inches.

“In June 1994, Gabrielle and I visited Iceland: as a geologist, I explained the continuing one-hundred million years’ tectonic-volcanic origin of Iceland. Voila! In Gabrielle’s vision, this information became a powerful and beautiful artwork about an event no human eyes had ever seen—the birth of Iceland. Some cultures greet the mother for a child’s birthday. In this painting, the red hot and viscous lava oozes under the deep cold artic water to create new land. As a woman who was also a medical doctor, Gabrielle understood the risk, the love, the sacrifice, and the joy a mother would have experienced while giving birth—a new life to the world.”—PZL

Gabrielle Wu Lee, Dance with Fire, 1998, oil on canvas, 42 x 63 inches.

Collection of Sharon and Michael Hartman.

“Prometheus stole fire and gave it to the humankind he loved; for that sin on behalf of humanity, he was constricted by giant serpents and his liver was eaten by an eagle, over and over again as a perpetual torment and punishment. Fire means power, energy, wisdom, knowledge, enthusiasm, defense, warmth, love and life. Heroic figures who have introduced truth, intelligence and wisdom have often suffered for their daring. Gabrielle recalled how much the fireplace at her dear parents’ home meant to her as a child. She remembered how the dynamic beauty of the flickering, dancing, playing, unpredictable flames had fascinated her and inspired imagination.”—PZL

Gabrielle Wu Lee, Phoenix, 1993, oil on canvas (relief), 40 x 96 inches.

Gabrielle Wu Lee, The Sapphire, 1999, oil on canvas, 42 x 90.5 inches.

Collection of Christopher Pfaff.

Gabrielle Wu Lee, Iridescent Beach, 1998, oil on canvas, 24 x 36 inches.

Collection of Lydia Keith.

Gabrielle Wu Lee, Hula Hula Dancers, 2004, oil on canvas, 48 x 40 inches. Private Collection.

“Living on islands surrounded by thousands of miles of ocean waves, it is no wonder that the Hawaiian people fervently welcome their visitors with leis and with dance. The colorful hibiscus leis are offered to the visitors to wear, and then the visitors are greeted by hula dancers. Healthy and young, the dancers with strings of flowers and green leaves as their only jewelry, swing and move to the romantic, elegant and hypnotic music—who could want to leave this home in paradise?”—PZL

Gabrielle Wu Lee, Galloping Rio Hondo, Taos, New Mexico, 1984, oil on canvas, 21 x 71.5 inches.

“Gabrielle would watch the rapids and sink herself in deep meditation. After returning to Tallahassee, she painted the New Mexico river imagery based on her meditation and memory. Of another river work in the same series, Confluence, Gabrielle said: ‘Confluence symbolizes the history and process that all individuals, all civilizations, all sciences, all arts, have been and will be going through.’ ”—PZL

Gabrielle Wu Lee, MD, MFA (1935-2010)

The academic art world often encourages minute and serial attention to a single concept. That wasn't Gabrielle's way. She was a devotee of the sublime—little "s"—whether she found it in the romance of volcanic forces, the constant rolling of the tides, or the quiet of a southern evening. She said she heard deity in the roar of the wind, the crash of the waves. Returning to such motifs again and again, she was intent on describing the movement, alluding to the power of tectonic plates, churning oceans, celestial storms, upheaval. Gabrielle Wu Lee demonstrated a triumph of intellect and tireless effort, and we felt nothing but admiration.

For those of us who love Western as well as Eastern art, the bridges Gabrielle constructed between the allusion and the action, East to West, are revealed. She had a reverence for tradition, calligraphy, Chinese painting and critical values, yet she possessed the modern urge to depart from convention and to invent her techniques and her subject matter anew. Gabrielle reveled in the majestic and chaotic forces of nature—and yet to paint them was to reveal order and a cosmic schema. At the close of T.S. Elliot’s “The Waste Land” the chant of “shantih, shantih, shantih” is said to not only signify its translation (“the peace that surpasses all understanding”), but Elliot's deliberately crafted onomatopoeic line with an aural replication of the sound of rain: shantih, shantih. The conclusion to “The Waste Land” is resurrection: the earth is not dead, salvation descends as rain. Elliot doesn’t state that, the reader hears it through the poetic device. In like manner, Gabrielle’s attention to the physical manifestation of geologic phenomena is a type of painterly onomatopoeia. Her swirling passages, her elegant calligraphic stroke, and the application of metallic highlights are her sense of the tumult and evanescent motion of forces she was drawn to admire in nature. Hers are not the atmospheric illusions invoked by painters of landscape, but are the marks of a keen observer who orchestrates motion that is then transfixed.

The exhibition was organized by the Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts in concert with Dr. Paul Lee
Credits: Story

Florida State University
MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS

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