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Lee Kwang-ho broadens artistic horizons in 'Composition in Blue'

Lee Kwang-ho's enameled copper artwork 'Composition in Blue' is on view at Leeahn Gallery Seoul through July 31. Courtesy of the artist and Leeahn Gallery
Lee Kwang-ho's enameled copper artwork 'Composition in Blue' is on view at Leeahn Gallery Seoul through July 31. Courtesy of the artist and Leeahn Gallery

By Kwon Mee-yoo

Lee Kwang-ho is well-known for his creations of weaving electric wires and PVC hoses. His braid lighting "Knot ― Beyond the Inevitable" series and chair "Obsession" series earned international acclaim and his furniture is highly sought after among art collectors and celebrities.

His furniture might be familiar to those who frequent the new AmorePacific headquarters in Yongsan District in Seoul. Lee's signature knitted chairs are scattered around the lobby ― he also designed the furniture and lighting for the Osulloc Tea House in the building.

However, Lee's exhibition "Composition in Blue," opened last week at Leeahn Gallery Seoul, shows an unknown aspect of him as he takes a leap, blurring the boundary between a designer and an artist. Except for a long sofa-like piece in nylon cord, all the works are in enameled copper and do not have any practical use as actual seating or lighting.

Born in Guri, Gyeonggi Province in 1981, Lee majored in Metal Art and Design at Hongik University. Lee works with a wide range of materials from rubber hoses and felt to PVC tubes and electric wires. His choice of materials and the handicraft element in his works are influenced by his dexterous grandfather and knitting mother.

Though he has gained global recognition, Lee does not define himself as a designer.

"This is the first time for me to introduce these sculptures. However, I don't label myself as a designer until yesterday and a sculptor from today," the artist said during a press preview of the exhibit, Wednesday.

"Previously, my works had minimal use ― to sit on or to light up ― and I was categorized as a designer. Now, I am more focused on formativeness than use. What I create could be seen as design for someone and art for another. People sit on my works because they are about the right height. It doesn't have much to do with the shape. If you sit on it, it's a chair. If you display and appreciate it, it's an artwork."

"I don't want to impose limitations because of the words. I don't need the classification between design and art. I just want to create something that is unique to me, Lee Kwang-ho."

Artist Lee Kwang-ho / Courtesy of the artist and Leeahn Gallery
Artist Lee Kwang-ho / Courtesy of the artist and Leeahn Gallery

The gallery's founder and director Ahn Hye-ryung said she was fascinated by Lee's works as artwork, not design furniture, and suggested that the Leeahn Gallery represent him.

"Lee is already well-known internationally as a designer and his works are very popular. However, for me, his work is more installation art and we decided to invest in his potential as an artist and we signed an exclusive contract to represent him," Ahn said.

Other artists represented by Leeahn Gallery are all well-established, including Lee Kun-yong and Nam Tchun-mo.

Lee employed industrialized, standardized materials ― copper pipes ― and added blue enamel for his new sculpture series "Composition in Blue."

"Copper did not come out of nowhere, but I've been toying with it since 2009, following wires in 2006 and PVC hoses in 2008. It takes time to find the right method of expression for me and the material," he said.

The enameled copper pieces feature "chilbo," or Korean cloisonne enamel. Lee applies chilbo on copper sheets with a spoon, which gives a unique texture and difference in thickness, which results in random cracks and color differences by the heat after being baked in a kiln at over 200 degrees Celsius.

"Chilbo literally means seven colors of jewels and used with luxurious metals such as gold, silver and bronze. I learned about and experimented with the material and decided to use it on bronze," Lee explained. "The blue color may represent dawn or night. It's a color that makes something familiar look different."

Lee Kwang-ho's enameled copper artwork 'Composition in Blue' is on view at Leeahn Gallery Seoul through July 31. Courtesy of the artist and Leeahn Gallery
Lee Kwang-ho's enameled copper artwork 'Composition in Blue' is on view at Leeahn Gallery Seoul through July 31. Courtesy of the artist and Leeahn Gallery

The exhibit is designed to be reminiscent of a dismantled architectural structure.

"Lee guides the viewers to perceive the space in a whole new light. The exhibition is organized in a way similar to how we recognize an object by perceiving it bit by bit. For instance, the 32 square modules on the wall could be combined in numerous ways; imagine looking in or out of a window," curator Sung Shin-young said.

"Many sculptures nowadays are site-specific. The arrangement of Composition in Blue is customized for the space at Leeahn Gallery by the artist with a dash of extemporaneousness. But though this artwork is specifically for Leeahn Gallery, it can be arranged differently to be displayed in a different space."

The exhibition runs through July 31.


Lee Kwang-ho's enameled copper artwork 'Composition in Blue' is on view at Leeahn Gallery Seoul through July 31. Courtesy of the artist and Leeahn Gallery
Lee Kwang-ho's enameled copper artwork 'Composition in Blue' is on view at Leeahn Gallery Seoul through July 31. Courtesy of the artist and Leeahn Gallery

By Kwon Mee-yoo

Lee Kwang-ho is well-known for his creations of weaving electric wires and PVC hoses. His braid lighting "Knot ― Beyond the Inevitable" series and chair "Obsession" series earned international acclaim and his furniture is highly sought after among art collectors and celebrities.

His furniture might be familiar to those who frequent the new AmorePacific headquarters in Yongsan District in Seoul. Lee's signature knitted chairs are scattered around the lobby ― he also designed the furniture and lighting for the Osulloc Tea House in the building.

However, Lee's exhibition "Composition in Blue," opened last week at Leeahn Gallery Seoul, shows an unknown aspect of him as he takes a leap, blurring the boundary between a designer and an artist. Except for a long sofa-like piece in nylon cord, all the works are in enameled copper and do not have any practical use as actual seating or lighting.

Born in Guri, Gyeonggi Province in 1981, Lee majored in Metal Art and Design at Hongik University. Lee works with a wide range of materials from rubber hoses and felt to PVC tubes and electric wires. His choice of materials and the handicraft element in his works are influenced by his dexterous grandfather and knitting mother.

Though he has gained global recognition, Lee does not define himself as a designer.

"This is the first time for me to introduce these sculptures. However, I don't label myself as a designer until yesterday and a sculptor from today," the artist said during a press preview of the exhibit, Wednesday.

"Previously, my works had minimal use ― to sit on or to light up ― and I was categorized as a designer. Now, I am more focused on formativeness than use. What I create could be seen as design for someone and art for another. People sit on my works because they are about the right height. It doesn't have much to do with the shape. If you sit on it, it's a chair. If you display and appreciate it, it's an artwork."

"I don't want to impose limitations because of the words. I don't need the classification between design and art. I just want to create something that is unique to me, Lee Kwang-ho."

Artist Lee Kwang-ho / Courtesy of the artist and Leeahn Gallery
Artist Lee Kwang-ho / Courtesy of the artist and Leeahn Gallery

The gallery's founder and director Ahn Hye-ryung said she was fascinated by Lee's works as artwork, not design furniture, and suggested that the Leeahn Gallery represent him.

"Lee is already well-known internationally as a designer and his works are very popular. However, for me, his work is more installation art and we decided to invest in his potential as an artist and we signed an exclusive contract to represent him," Ahn said.

Other artists represented by Leeahn Gallery are all well-established, including Lee Kun-yong and Nam Tchun-mo.

Lee employed industrialized, standardized materials ― copper pipes ― and added blue enamel for his new sculpture series "Composition in Blue."

"Copper did not come out of nowhere, but I've been toying with it since 2009, following wires in 2006 and PVC hoses in 2008. It takes time to find the right method of expression for me and the material," he said.

The enameled copper pieces feature "chilbo," or Korean cloisonne enamel. Lee applies chilbo on copper sheets with a spoon, which gives a unique texture and difference in thickness, which results in random cracks and color differences by the heat after being baked in a kiln at over 200 degrees Celsius.

"Chilbo literally means seven colors of jewels and used with luxurious metals such as gold, silver and bronze. I learned about and experimented with the material and decided to use it on bronze," Lee explained. "The blue color may represent dawn or night. It's a color that makes something familiar look different."

Lee Kwang-ho's enameled copper artwork 'Composition in Blue' is on view at Leeahn Gallery Seoul through July 31. Courtesy of the artist and Leeahn Gallery
Lee Kwang-ho's enameled copper artwork 'Composition in Blue' is on view at Leeahn Gallery Seoul through July 31. Courtesy of the artist and Leeahn Gallery

The exhibit is designed to be reminiscent of a dismantled architectural structure.

"Lee guides the viewers to perceive the space in a whole new light. The exhibition is organized in a way similar to how we recognize an object by perceiving it bit by bit. For instance, the 32 square modules on the wall could be combined in numerous ways; imagine looking in or out of a window," curator Sung Shin-young said.

"Many sculptures nowadays are site-specific. The arrangement of Composition in Blue is customized for the space at Leeahn Gallery by the artist with a dash of extemporaneousness. But though this artwork is specifically for Leeahn Gallery, it can be arranged differently to be displayed in a different space."

The exhibition runs through July 31.


Kwon Mee-yoo meeyoo@koreatimes.co.kr

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