brilliant 30: Seahyun Lee

Contemporary Social Landscape in Red Variations

Between Red
Artist Seahyun Lee - video
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Artist Seahyun Lee - video

Seahyun Lee, Red Social Landscapes

Between Red

Seahyun Lee’s paintings draw together aspects of contemporary society in the form of “social landscapes.” Lee speaks of expired national ideologies - he labels them as the “Red Complex” - which he feels in this dominating contemporary society. The artist narrates the causes and effects of this “Complex” by covering his canvases in red. Lee’s massive works, depicting nature and villages, elicit recollections of familiar sceneries. Employing a landscape painting technique, the artist is able to integrate fragments of what we know as South Korea and North Korea into a single, holistic scene. Lee’s work tells of gentrification and the decay of nature, and the consequences thereof. A beautiful landscape is a façade depicting a utopia. But if one looks more closely, he/she can find the hidden metaphor of an oppressive and frightening dystopia clearly.

These red landscapes depict points of socio-political tension between North and South Korea, such as the 38th Parallel, dividing the two regions with issues related to dictatorship, democracy and homeland security. In a larger sense, details in the works represent Korean culture, nationalism, values and social structure. In context, these details illuminate contemporary ideologies which have subsumed traditional ones. Technically, Lee’s subjects are integrated by means of painterly abstraction and realism which broaden the artist’s narrative scheme. Tiny figures appear against a backdrop of mountain slopes; minute details are blurred together to form a holistic, red-hued landscape. In this way, Lee’s paintings juxtapose elements which in sum, create a greater “social landscape.”


Artist Seahyun Lee

Q. Where does your inspiration come from?

I noticed how one year can transform the mountains and riverbeds. While I remember partially how the environment used to look, there are segments that have disappeared from my memory. When my mother passed away, I left her ashes in her hometown; when I went back to pay homage to her before leaving for overseas, I found the town completely gentrified. The shock of seeing what was happening before me was the same feeling I had when I witnessed the disappeared nature scenery in Korea – beautiful and paramount in value but left vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

All things are juxtaposed against reality, determining whether we live in a utopia or a dystopia. These desires are innate fundamental instincts to shape our mindset. - Seahyun Lee -

  • Artist Seahyun Lee

    Q. You call your work “social landscapes.” At your solo exhibition in the U.K., a critic described them as “highly political, yet highly painterly.” How did you come to paint these landscapes?

    My military service in the Demilitarized Zone influenced creating my “social landscape.” Looking through infrared binoculars, I found nature under the moonlight which was sad and hauntingly beautiful at the same time. Fragments of our society are still affected by the "Red Complex", placing reality behind tainted glass. I wanted to paint this social phenomenon from a different perspective.

  • Artist Seahyun Lee

    Q. Do you have certain boundaries for the scope of elements that can be included in your landscapes?

    Everything tangible - that can be seen with the naked eye - is eligible to feature in my landscapes. However, immaterial ideologies and values, emotions, death and life – abstract things - can also be there.

Between Red

Q. Most of your work consists of oil paintings on large canvases. It seems that one canvas is enough to contain each landscape. Is there a reason why you choose to paint these landscapes in sporadic clusters and then re-align them as diptychs and triptychs?

The world that we live in is composed of all different kinds of landscapes: a social phenomenon or a single incident; movements below the surface that come into existence through interactions with other forces; or a continuum of subjects with seemingly different attributes. In other words, some things appear disconnected yet share a common theme, whereas others appear to be connected, but are not. My method can be seen as a way to show the laws of co-existence between fragmented elements.

Q. You mention this "Red Complex" frequently. Is there a story behind your choice of color as red?

Q. You mention this "Red Complex" frequently. Is there a story behind your choice of color as red?

Artist Seahyun Lee

Q. You mention this "Red Complex" frequently. Is there a story behind your choice of color as red?

I think it’s faith in the existence of a better world beyond “now.” Everything we learned in school was based on ideals; our nostalgia for our youth lies in lost ideologies, too. Hence, all things are juxtaposed against reality, determining whether we live in a utopia or a dystopia. These desires are innate fundamental instincts to shape our mindset.

  • <Between Red-195>

    Between Red-195_Oil on linen_40x200cm_2014

    <Between Red-195>
  • <Between Red-185>

    Between Red-185_Oil on linen_200x200cm_2013

    <Between Red-185>
  • <Between Red-162>

    Between Red-162_Oil on linen_200x300cm_2012

    <Between Red-162>
  • <Between Red-108>

    Between Red - 108_Oil on linen_200x200cm_2010

    <Between Red-108>
  • <Between Red-107>

    Between Red-107_Oil on linen_200x200cm_2010

    <Between Red-107>
  • <Between Red-198>

    Between Red-198_Oil on linen, 200 x 200 cm, 2014

    <Between Red-198>


Artist Seahyun Lee

Seahyun Lee received his B.F.A. and M.F.A. in painting from Hongik University, and acquired his second M.F.A. in painting at Chelsea College of Arts, London. In 2001, Lee held his first solo exhibition, “Day-to-Day” at Hongik Museum of Art; in 2012, he had his second solo exhibition at Hakgojae, “Plastic Garden.” Apart from these two shows, Lee’s eight solo exhibitions between 2007 and 2014 were all called “Between Red” and were held at venues including Miki Wick Kim Contemporary Art, Zurich, 2007; Union Gallery, London 2008; Zonca & Zonca, Milan, 2009; Nicholas Robinson Gallery, New York, 2011; Amsterdam, 2014. Major group exhibits include “Future Fax” at the Venice Biennale Special Exhibit, Venice, 2011; “Sea of Peace” at Incheon Art Platform, 2011; “Prelude” at Space Cottonseed, Singapore, 2012; “Cynical Resistance” at Canvas International Art, Amsterdam, 2012; “(Im)Possible Landscape” at Plateau, Seoul, 2012; “The Moment We Awe” at HOW Art Museum, Wenzhou, 2013; “Pulse of Site” at Hakgojae Gallery, Shanghai, 2013.

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