Inspired by her close circle of female friends, Korean artist Sujin Lee's latest series of paintings exhibit themes of companionship and sisterhood, of women finally brought together after two years of a global pandemic that has kept so many of us apart.
Comprising 20 paintings ranging from small portraits to large group scenes, Lee's powerful new portraits are inspired by her close circle of friends, influencing the various female figures represented throughout her paintings. Heads rest upon shoulders or nestle into necks, cheeks press against cheeks, hands hold, with an intimacy encapsulated and a closeness of contact much missed in recent pandemic plagued times.
The artworks reveal a desire to paint her own lived experiences and to experience life through her paintings. There's a hint of self-portraiture, certainly. But these works are not direct representations of herself or others nor is there an emotionally engaged likeness or more intimate artistic impression. The artist instead asks, "What are these girls? Is this me? Or is this just a painting?" In doing so, she asks us to consider her subjects as symbols of friendship, our own relationships with ourselves and others, and also intimate parts of the artist herself.
Born in Korea's Jeju Island, famous for its rich landscapes, it's clear Lee is also influenced by her hometown with each painting featuring scenic, surrealistic backdrops of bowed branches, flowing fronds and towering tree trunks, and dreamscape set-dressing for her monumental staged society portraits. Each character has delicate, almost alien-type features with huge wide eyes, angular faces, high cheekbones and petite lips. Hair takes on a rounded, chunky feel. While details, such as clothing, feel cartoon-like with their highlighted curves, dappled with light.
Almost entirely self-taught, Lee originally studied visual communication and flirted with a career in commercial illustration, before she became frustrated with its constraints. She instead turned to painting as a source of liberation with her earlier works notable for their grounding in reality, showcasing snapshots of urban life populated by figures appearing to follow contemporary fashion trends, or depicting domesticity and the interruption of an intimate moment.
Lee is marking her first solo exhibition in the UK this February, presenting this latest series at Saatchi Yates in Mayfair, London. Phoebe Saatchi Yates and Arthur Yates commented: "We heard about a young artist with a small cult following in South Korea, and became increasingly intrigued by her world. She was painting in the 'Superflat' style of Murakami and Nara but bringing elegance and charm through the characters in her female-only world. We started speaking to Sujin in 2019 and she has spent the last two years working on a large-scale exhibition which we are very delighted to present in London."
The exhibition at Saatchi Yates will launch on 2 February and will run until 26 March. To enjoy more of Sujin Lee's practice, you can follow her on Instagram.