Alchemist of History
Words SUBIN ANDERSON
Photography LAURA STEVENS
Styling MANON DEL COLLE
“The methodology should be concise. It should be simple,” says Lee Bae. Lee’s nominal yet intricate paintings are enough to merely look as it is, as each stroke reads almost like a figurative sense containing the artist’s emotion, movement, and history. One might think of these gestures as spontaneous, but every process is the fruit of intense research and countless repetitions of movement, gradually forming like a symphony. Through this, Lee’s body is infused with the gestures until they become unified, where wordless storytelling communicates their complexities.
Lee Bae creates a visual language that speaks directly to the viewer. The marks and textures created with charcoal are like a map of his innermost thoughts and emotions, a window into his very being. The jagged lines and bold strokes that characterize his work evoke a sense of energy and movement, as if the charcoal itself were alive and in motion, pulsating with energy. Meanwhile, the softer, more delicate tones suggest a sense of vulnerability and introspection. As we gaze at his works, we are drawn into a world of sensation that is deeply personal and universally relatable. It is a world that exists in the spaces between the marks on the page, inviting us to explore the infinite possibilities of the monochromatic palette and discover the beauty that lies in the shadows. Lee’s work is an enigma, a mystery waiting to be unraveled, and a journey of the senses that promises to captivate and inspire all fortunate enough to behold it.
In this interview, we discuss Lee Bae’s intimate process and approach to the series of his oeuvres and the desire to embrace and transcend one’s identity.
Subin Anderson: Having read about your life and career, I have so much I want to discuss with you. Before we delve into specific works, let’s talk about charcoal. In what ways has using this particular material expressed your artistic language, and how has it continued to guide your practice?
Lee Bae: I approached charcoal as a way to express my artistic sensibilities. It symbolized the cyclical nature of life and death, breathing new life into my creative practice. As wood transforms into charcoal through the fiery furnace of a kiln, it retains its inherent integrity. Similarly, all things in life exist in a continuous state of transformation while still holding on to their essence.
In Korean culture, charcoal holds a special place as a key element in calligraphy, revered for its deep symbolic significance. Its intricacy and nuance set it apart from more conventional materials like oil paint or pastels. Charcoal’s complexity intertwines with my artistic process, evoking a sense of spirituality that guides my work as a whole.
SA: And tell me about your choice of charcoal, as it’s the base and the starting point for your creative process.
LB: In the 90s [during my early days in France], I was walking by a small shop in Paris and found a bag of charcoal for barbeque. I was surprised at the moment as I wasn’t fully aware that charcoal was easily accessible in other foreign countries as well. With my work, I typically use charcoal made from pine trees grown mainly in Korea, preferably using baeksong, a white-bark pine tree that radiates light gray/blue ash color. Moreover, Korean pine trees have a unique texture due to the vast temperature differences throughout the year. Nonetheless, I also work with other types of trees and sometimes charcoal sourced in France. All around, it’s incredibly fascinating to see the complexity of patterns, textures, and colors in each type I work with.
<Read the full interview from Issue Six>
Alchemist of History
Brett Littman explores Noguchi’s universal approach to sculpture
The LOEWE FOUNDATION Craft Prize and the Role of Craftsmanship in Modern Society
Shaping the passage of tomorrow
Breathing Life into Oneself