Lee Jinyong is an award-winning, mid-career, Korean artist with an impressive CV of solo and group exhibitions. He has shown extensively in Korea and the United States, where his work is featured in many public and private collections.
His work takes the form of meticulous, wall-mounted constructions and ‘photo-realistic’ paintings. This description does not really do justice to the labour and focus required to make these startlingly tangible objects and images. His paintings, fastidiously rendered in oil on panel, are of antique books, worn and patinated by age and use. Their titles speak of art, literature, science and philosophy; conjuring up a singular weight of human thought and creativity. The sculptural pieces are composed of multiples of ceramic type-blocks depicting Korean ideograms. These are combined in their hundreds to make regularly shaped reliefs which, from a distance, form an undifferentiated surface. On closer inspection they reveal themselves to be the components of language. The pieces challenge the viewer to construct a story, to make sense of what may be random, to read a code, in short, to engage with language.
Lee Jinyong is fascinated by text and its classifications. His pieces are full of undeciphered and mysterious messages. The books are presented as seductively tactile relics, almost intimidating in the density of attention that the artist has granted them. The book itself has become physically important, the object is as profound as its potential message. His paintings make the book into a monument. The ceramic, stony and sgraffitoed surfaces of his constructions make association with archaeological objects. They can be read as messages from the distant past, attempted dialogues with departed civilisations.
The artist’s subjects are objects of personal significance, part of his life’s collection. They have, by virtue of his obsessive and highly skilled attention, become containers for expansive ideas about the importance of memory and the value of history in its many interpretations. These pieces suggest we look over our shoulders before moving on.