When it comes to turning a painting into a three-dimensional piece, I get a little wary. It had better be done for a damn good reason or it will always come off kitsch. Artists have tried for years and failed to turn the surface of a canvas into a sculpture with the notable exception of Jasper Johns. I understand the yearning to mix media and push painting out of the corner Pollock painted it into. I have not, however, seen a successful painting/sculpture arise in any of my art making peers. With this very heavy bias in mind, I ducked into the PYO gallery, 1100 S Hope St, Los Angeles, CA 90015, on a blustery L.A. afternoon.
This gallery, a little off the beaten path, was opened in July 2008. It has yet to garner much attention from the press but that does not mean that buyers and viewers have not been interested.
Since January 17th the paintings of Lee Yong Deok have hung on the walls of the PYO gallery, acquiring some much needed attention. “He generated so much traffic, more than any of our other shows have. People were panicking about getting here on time,” explains Meghan Crowley from PYO. He is an artist from Korea that the gallery already represented. They felt it was time he was, “introduced to the U.S. and to our U.S. collectors,” says Crowley.
When I stepped into the gallery it was the middle of the week in the middle of the day and I was the only visitor. This, in my opinion, is the optimum way to view the paintings.
The pieces were large, however the figures depicted in them were slightly smaller than life size. They were not so small that the viewer overwhelmingly held power over them; they were simple, unassumingly small, as if their impact on the world was a quiet one.
Being a photographer, the images read as negatives to me at first glance. The figures were painted in a silvery gray and the rest of the simple color palette was comprised of striking, almost neon hues.
At a gallery I will most often stand three feet from the wall to begin with, then back up to get a better read. With these pieces I started far away, because I always end up stepping back in the long run. I had spent about two minutes perusing the images before something began to seem strange about them. These paintings pulled me forward, and once reached three feet, it hit me. Lee Yong Deok had carved into the painting. The figures were inverted sculpture. As I moved from left to right the figures changed, the faces moved.
There was something magnificent occurring in the combination of the color, type of paint and carving technique that gave these pieces a palpable fluidity. It forced me into motion around the gallery. Lee’s figures were all at peace in the very mundane tasks of life. They moved within bright yet simple spaces, but they moved quietly. On his website Lee has these words “The liveliness, the energy that flows in the body, will, movement, thoughts, and so on… what else can be more beautiful?” Following the Taoist idea that meditation, peace, and spirituality are all wrapped up in just being, these paintings quietly exist.
Down to the very technique of carving into his works, Lee Yong Deok exemplifies a very simple peace that can be found in daily life, if you would just stop looking searching for it. After extending his show due to popularity, you still have a chance to go see his paintings, which come down the first week of April. Look me up on twitter, username booradford, and I’d be happy to go see them with you. This is one show you don’t want to miss and one gallery that will make a name for itself Downtown.