The Human Body Representing the Human Soul
Park Sook young (Arts Plastiques, Professor of Ewha Women's University)
The human body has long been an important motif and subject for sculptors, so much so that the history of sculpture is often said to be identical to that of sculpture of the human body. Be it as a symbol of religious faith, a formative art object conveying aesthetic message, or the representation of an artist's philosophy, the human body expressed through sculpture has undergone diverse change from the concrete to the abstract. In this day and age where discussion on the concept of sculpture with relation to paintings, architecture and landscape hardly exists amid a flood of various art forms such as installation art, environment art, and media art, it is becoming extremely difficult to come across an artists faithfully in pursuit of the core value of sculpture using traditional material and techniques dealing with a traditional motif. It is especially so under current times where the boundaries between art and music, pure art and commercial art, and sophisticated art and pop art are growing increasingly obscure. Amid the current trend in the sculpture circle where modern sculpture has opted to remain as a visual art much like paintings by dissolving the form and using industrial material, thereby forfeiting weight and gravity, Kyeong Jae Lee goes against such trends by expressing the human body through the use of stone in an attempt to emphasize weight and traditional carving method. Human sculptures often take the form of exaggerated shapes in the modernism era, an approach adopted by expressionists as a way of showing their interest in the human shape and by post-WWII artists who sought to express human as an existential being. Some were influenced by the culture of the primitive era and took a classic approach to expressing human shape.
Lee is neither affected by the various art trends of the past nor the fad of current times, creating art that is dictated solely by his own unique rhythm and order. While some dissect the human body, use a wide range of material to express the abstractness (e.g., cubists), or borrow the expressionists' method of changing the human shape in an attempt to represent moderness, Lee adheres to the traditional approach using marbles to express a unified volume, immovable frontality, weight and symmetry, all of which contribute to successful expression of modern art. It is ironic, in a sense, that such a classic approach has the force to so successfully and effectively express moderness. His collection reflects the artist's ongoing interest in the classic world of the east and the west, as well as his religious background. Simplicity, frontality, immobility, and simplified silhouette are the key features that define Lee's works, much like the Buddhist's statue of the east and the religious stone statue in the primitive era of the west. The influence of Henry Moore and the archaic culture is clear in his works such as the sleeping statue - classicism constitutes an integral part of his collection.
The seemingly simple proportion of the body, the smooth geometric masses organically linked to create the human body, the frame that is suggested through full but implied volume, the smooth surface that is carefully planned, the bold omission of insignificant parts, the smooth face simplified in the form of a sphere, and the sophisticated texture that covers the surface come together to form the harmony balance that lead us into the world of comfort and peace. Small parts of the body such as hands and feet are carved into lines as if drawing the lines on canvas. Other peripheral elements are expressed in bas relief to create a sense of sophistication and controlled sensitivity.
Past works mostly consisted of a single figure, mostly women, either standing, sitting, or sleeping. A mother-and-child or a couple standing together was the furthest from the norm but was still held together to form a single entity. This time Lee ventures into a new form in which a group of individuals stands independent of one another. Sculpture representing children that reminds us of our care-free childhood playing gleefully and in high hopes of a bright future is an example. The method of displaying his works - placing the sculptures on a high pedestal - is quite different from the conventional method of placing sculptures on even-size pedestals, creating a sense of nostalgia by distancing the audience from the art piece. The same goes for the three men observing their shadows. The men who probably shared similar experiences as children are shown to have taken different paths in life. They are looking at different directions that may represent the future, present or the past, depending on one's interpretation. Similar approach can be found in the bathing woman or the woman standing next to the street light. Lee's collection depicts human in harmony with the environment, an approach taken by the artist to express the human body to tell a story and to form relationships to express the human soul.