The Neighborhood Artists - 18.Yunyop Lee
I had the second and the third chance to meet him to prepare or the open studio of artist Yunyop Lee, which now I can say now I did not make a particular plan of. I visited the valley of Nampoon-ri Bogae-myeon Ansung-si to try something, but is it said if you stand in the different place you can see the different view? When i visited his studio, there was a prickly artist even though I would try to be friendly if he is my easy-going neighbor. And it is uncomfortable the open studio or something, something we must do was approaching. To read his mind I could not help conducting psychological warfare against my will…He looked uncomfortable when I told him about the previous open studio like some artist did this and some open studio was like this and so on.
He can say he was not that uncomfortable. But sitting in front of me I felt he was uncomfortable. By the way, what he said was so reasonable that I could not compare with other landscapes. He said that it was enough that somebody would visit the studio. It is enough that an artist meets audience itself without the need to plan and lead a program. So we promised to do nothing and wouldn’t sound him out anymore. We decided to make a great effort. Not to paint over the meaning of the meeting, we were supposed to have the meaning entirely. We felt the prickly moment passed when we decided to do nothing.
At the third meeting, I arrived at his studio a little early but there were nothing to do and help. There was no decoration or no rush, and the only thing to do was to make a fire outside of the studio and burn a stack of straws scattered during autumn. Acquaintances of the artist were there, and some visitors were strangers in the studio and some were people who did not know artist Lee. He said before visitors arrived, “I like people though.”, and I thought something mysterious was happening as visitors stated to walk in one by one. He was the easy-going neighbor, and became the prickly artist, and then there was just Yunyop Lee at the moment. I think he is originally such a person but I might see him on his side so far.
“Do you try engraving?” He gave kids some woodblock and let them draw what they want. He let them draw the sketch with broad markers and paint it with light-color of markers. The principle was simple. To distinguish between parts to be raised and parts to be recessed and to paint the sketch was to distinguish between parts that should be chipped and parts that are chipped. Engraving spread out to adult participants. The studio was crowded with people who focused on engraving with a woodblock and a marker in the long wood table. Flowers, dogs, people, houses and cars……they draw trivial and familiar objects and the only thing left is a choice; if you are left behind, you are chipped. To chip the sketches is easy but the background will remain black like a dark sky, and to chip the background is a little bit difficult but the objects become clear. Of course it needs your hard work but you can look forward to seeing the clear world.
When I promised to ‘do nothing’ with the artist, he languidly said somebody may look around the studio, while looking around and feeling bored try engraving, and then may go outside. But I was surprised at the spread that so many people fell into a woodblock of a span. I was amazed by the immersion. Who said a picture is drawing things that we are missing? When it comes to a picture by engraving, it might be drawing the more missing than a picture. The extremely difficult process of engraving with chisel is a work we must carry out our duty on our pictures and our objects more than any pictures to draw and put aside.
Someone wanted to leave phrases but this required another process. Because left and right are reversed in the engraving as they learned in the childhood, which has been blurred over time. After designing the reversed phrases, they had to wait in doubt until the moment of printing if it would be engraved right. When I asked how the engraving process of turning inside out influenced him, he said he had become addicted to it. That is, it was a habitual process. But for beginners it was an unfamiliar process to shake their head, their world, not a physical process like turning clothes inside out. I hope the short time will be piled up in their body and remembered as a long memory. I am sure it will.
When everyone was immersed in engraving, an interview was recorded at the corner of the studio. The first question was “Please tell me about Yunyop Lee as a human being and Yunyop Lee as an artist.” People refer to him as an outdoor artist and a dispatch artist. In Daechuri, Miryang and Gangjeong dominated by the logic of big capital he sided with the weak and in every place in need of workers’ voice such as workers’ struggles of Hanjin Heavy Industries & Construction, Ssangyong Motor and Cort&Cor-tek he was there. Of course it is not the only person who was there. Several names can be called. Artist Lee and a few other artists have banded together with the fields. When he was asked: What is your favorite epithet? He answered he likes ‘a woodcut artist.’ He has done various works but he says now he only wants to be good at one thing, a woodcut.
When he said “staying at a woodcut is mild” considering his past to start to drawing a sign of a theater and his move toward Minjung* Art, how could I understand him? (*Note: Minjung refers to the people or the grass-roots.) I could not ask him all due to the limited time. By the way it is not just because of the time limit, but I did not like to ruin the mood of the moment he spoke from his heart. When he talked about the mildness of a woodcut, I would like to be a listener who entirely accepted what he was saying. So understanding is up to me. The mildness he mentioned seemed a characteristic of a woodcut comparing to a picture. Comparing with other engraving such as a lithograph and a copperplate print, a woodcut has its strength in clear message rather than in detailed expression, and then the mildness he spoke of might not be a characteristic of a woodcut differentiated from other engraving. Is a picture stronger than an engraving at least for him? Is a picture rough if it is on the opposite of mildness?
A little clue is what he said; “an engraving is almost a slogan. It is like a slogan, not a comment or a letter of plea. A path to approach more easily by filtering out and selecting, rather than a try to deliver as much as emotion and information. Is not showing off and becoming gentle? The mildness he talked about? Then his mild woodcut is like a little child. I mean the innocence of the child, not purity or cleverness. Well, he writes like a child. As he displaces the reality innocently, it is not by rules like a spelling system.
During the interview I saw little kids running around the dirt road of Bogae-myeon Nampoong-ri in group. The woodcut working seems to be almost in the final stage. Then he goes up the hill of the village holding hands with parents. He said this is the scene he dreamed of most when he prepared for the open studio as if he meets a critical moment. “This is what I wanted. Isn’t it the best?” His mind that kids looked different after his baby was born was reflected in his words. And he called the village elders to enjoy food. I interviewed with some of them. Full of praise, he said, “I do nothing. Just because there are no young people in this village.” Why do trivial things become something when artist Lee does it? Though he said he did not do anything but he did something for the village, and something happened when he was going to do nothing. Artist Yunyop Lee I met three times is bizarre. A lot of bizarre things happen around him.
His words and his behavior that it is nothing and he is going to do nothing do so in his world. But no. Changes and actions spring up because Yunyop Lee is here and there. A natural person, a person who builds a waterway of arts in every place, and yet a person who says that he wants to be just a good woodcut artist. As just a human being and as an artist, Yunyop Lee is here and there.
Written by Hyunju Kim
(Creative Director/Art Critic)
B.A. of Department of Western Painting at Suwon Univ.
2013 Yunyop Exhibition, Alternative space Artforum Rhee, Bucheon
2011 Here are Human Beings, Sakima Art Museum, Japan
2006 NOON Gallery, Suwon
2004 Suwon Art Center, Suwon
Planned Exhibition & Group Exhibitions
2014 The 20th Anniversary of Gwangju Biennale, Special Exhibition, Gwangju Museum of Art, Gwangju
The Land and The People Contemporary Korean Prints, The University Library Gallery of California State Univ., United States
Pictures, Tell Korea, Daejeon Museum of Art, Daejeon
2013 Naval Battle in Gangjeong, Peace Museum, Seoul
2011 The Trend of the Korean Modern Art Exhibition, Gimhae Arts and Sports Center, Gimhae
2010 Strangers in Paradise (Time Travel to a Stranger City), Suwon Art Center, Suwon
HIM of Gyoenggi-do, Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art, Ansan
2009 The Guerilla Planned Exhibition to revisit Yongsan Disaster - “Watchtower Exhibition” Peace Museum, Seoul
2007 Asian Popular Arts Exhibition, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan
National Highway No.1, Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art, Ansan
2006 Ten Neighbors, Kwanhoon Gallery, Seoul
2004 The Realing 15 Years, Savina Art Museum, Seoul
2012 Gu Bonju Art Prize