Lee Jungwoong paints pictures of paintbrushes — he paints the thing that paints.
These are large-scale, hyper-real images of traditional Chinese paintbrushes accompanied by the marks, blotches and splashes that they make. The brush itself is rendered in coloured oil paint, while its mark is in monochromatic ink. The surface is hanji, Korean paper, mounted onto canvas, its absorbent and receptive skin appropriate for capturing the expressive power of the ink. There are two modes of representation going on: the depiction of an object and the depiction of its abstract imprint. We experience the contrast and tension between the controlled handling of the motif and the gestural excitement of the attendant brushmark.
Lee Jungwoong is a Korean artist of great experience, in demand worldwide and represented in many public and private collections. A master of technique, he brings a blend of cultural sensibilities to his work, in the first case, specifically referencing the western iteration of hyper-realism, and in the second, the ancient eastern art of the brush. His painting seems to mirror a contemporary Korean preoccupation with a kind of cultural accommodation, where a modern society is a synthesis of the past and the present and where cultural differences are reconciled. We might see his paintings as hybrids, examples of such a process.
These images, despite their literalness of description, are enigmatic. One asks: what does the brush stand for? Is it a symbol of the artist himself? Or is it a metonym for the act of painting? We witness something painting itself. It is possible that the artist is saying that all that matters is to paint, that the subject is painting entirely, that the act is all.
Philosophically intriguing and wryly humorous, these mesmerically life-like images command our attention. The painter exploits to the full the expressive and conceptual potential of that cultural tool, the loaded paintbrush.