|IVORY YEUNMI LEE|
Ivory Yeunmi Lee, "Frogmen in the Garden Inferno"
June 2 - July 7, 2012 at PYO Gallery, Downtown
by Scarlet Cheng
Wandering the imaginary landscapes of the paintings of Ivory Yeunmi Lee is like floating through an eerie, pastel-hued reverie – a summer afternoon nap, perhaps, when we find ourselves following a cloaked rabbit down the hole. We’ve dozed off and entered a world of strange creatures and plants that are amalgams of what we’ve seen or heard about, with a Jungian connection we’ve made to them. In these reveries humanoids, plants and animals inhabit otherworldly gardens – they’re bits of heaven and bits of hell, although it must be said that the heavenly parts are not so ideal, and the hellish parts are not so horrible. That is because Lee’s vision has elements of the dangerous or discomforting mixed with elements of the adorable and the humorous. The soft tones of pinks and blues and greens, and the meticulous renderings pull us in.
Ivory Yeunmi Lee, "Frogmen in the Garden Inferno," 2009, acrylic and color pencil on canvas, 28 1/2 x 35 3/4".
I don’t say “hellish” lightly – Lee herself places the word “inferno” into the titles of many of her works, which are drawn in colored pencil and painted in acrylic. In “The Garden Inferno” two pinkish ducks are immersed in an aquamarine-blue pond. We see only their heads and the upper part of their shoulders and wings. At first they appear to be nothing more than cute illustrations from a children’s book, but then we realize how they peer out of slitted eyes and each breathes out a little flame of fire. They’re hatching some no-good scheme, no doubt. In fact, these little flames are all over the landscape – floating through the air like leaves, burning atop the trees. These trees are carefully pruned, each is a vertical of four bundles with evenly positioned leaves.
Lee is into trees, their forms and their allusions – the Tree of Life, the Tree of Knowledge, the World Tree. “The Fruittree” is a kind of World Tree, positioned as it is upon its own island, its branches sporting both bundles of leaves and individual leaves. More surprisingly, this tree is standing on its own two feet! Meanwhile, the edge of the island is rimmed by panels of eyes, just a portion of the face with eyes and cheeks, looking out like sentinels.
In “Frogmen in the Garden Inferno” human heads are embedded in big leafy trees. From their mouths issue a stream of water – as in some fountain – into a lake (also a pale aquamarine blue). This lake is filled with the panels of eyes peering out similar to those in "The Fruittree." There’s an impassivity in the faces and creations in Lee’s work; they are neither happy nor sad, but passing their ordinary hours doing things which seem just a bit extraordinary.
Several paintings have a decidedly goth sensibility, whispering of death, decay, and a certain decadence. Especially ghoulish is “The Blue Blood” in which a blue snake winds in and out of a floating disk, dark liquid dripping from its body. This snake sports a toothy smile (small, sharp teeth), as its forked tongue tests the air. “The Garden with Olive” shows just a human head, perhaps a severed one, with a burning helmet on. Black liquid (blood or sap?) seeps from under the helmet and down the side of his face and neck. His counterpart appears to be the female head in “The Fountain in the Reddish Garden.” This head wears a cap made of reddish petals, and likewise the black liquid streams down her cheeks and neck. She also issues a stream of water flowing from her lips.
The artist sees painting as her way of connecting reality and imagination, and an exploration of her musings. There’s much sly humor in her work – her depictions of knowing animals and brainless humanoids are very clever, funny and jarring, and then there’s the charm.