Master craftsman, Jaehyo Lee, creates stunning pieces of art using nothing else besides discarded wood; occasionally he throws some nails in the mix.
What good can come out of discarded pieces of wood and maybe some iron nails? For most of us, the answer would be nothing. But master craftsman Jaehyo Lee uses these very materials to create stunning and sophisticated pieces of art that exemplify a right mix of elegance and grandeur. The South Korean artist works with wood to create incredibly sleek sculptures with abundant attention to detail.
Lee’s unique art form that has wowed audiences across the globe is the result of a meticulous and industrious approach toward his craft – he first collects large chunks of wood in various shapes and sizes, then burns certain portions of them, after which he polishes the surfaces to create a shiny and smooth effect before even commencing to work on the sculpture.
When asked to speak about his dexterous approach and commitment to his craft, Lee says, “To be able to create artworks, an artist should first cultivate his sensibilities, just like an athlete prepares his body or a musician increases his lung capacity. I find the strength to pursue this unique art form as it stems from my heart rather than from my hands or brain.”
The charred wood presents a perfect contrast to the earthy wooden hues, as also to the shiny metal nails that are found in abundance in a variety of his works. The charred wood often serves as a base or foundation around which Lee weaves an entire sculpture, sometimes by inserting logs of fresh wood and misshapen nails and steel bolts at other times. Lee works on a broad spectrum of art, using a common technique to create both functional and abstract works; these range from benches, stools and tables to biomorphic pieces.
Explaining the finer nuances behind these intricate creations, he says, “Every piece of art is supposed to be looked at from a certain distance. Artworks made of smaller materials are to be looked at up close whereas those made of voluminous materials such as tree trunks are meant to be seen from farther away. The finishing touch can be different depending on the distance from where the artworks are seen.”
Despite the striking similarity of materials and colours, each of his creations is unique in its own right. “I dislike reading art books or visiting art museums. Right after my graduation, I moved to a suburban area and absorbed myself in creating genuine works. I always try to stick to what I want to create and who I am, while staying in my own world.”
Though his creations are largely woven out of natural elements, Lee is not a big fan of the idea of placing his works in a natural setting. “I don’t like to have flowers near my artworks. Likewise, I am afraid of my works being installed in a forest, because artworks get humbled and insignificant when placed amidst the grandness of nature. That’s why the exhibition halls where my sculptures are displayed are always painted white. The aim is to make them stand out wherever they are installed.”
Lighting and the right illumination, however, play a crucial role in accentuating the beauty of his works. “Sculptures are very different from paintings in terms of their lighting requirements. Light should be shed on a painting evenly, however, sculptures require both light and shade in order to enhance their 3D effect.”
He continues, “The size of a sculpture must be in good harmony with both the space it is installed in and the amount of light it receives. The focus should be on lighting up the entire space instead of highlighting the artwork alone. Besides, I do not like putting lights inside the sculptures as then the focus is compromised.”
Is there a certain concept behind Lee’s works? He answers, “There is no definite concept in my works. Our ancestors have treated silence as an important factor. Contrary to western culture, we have been raised to not talk too much. Words are unnecessary if we can empathise with what we see. If we take the ‘concept’ out of an art, the only thing left is ‘empathy’, and that can be felt by all. In short, the concept of my artworks is to not have any concept. Art should be seen and be experienced by the viewers. There should be no need to explain what the concept behind the artwork is.”
Ask him what drives him towards relentlessly pursuing this rare form of art, and he says it is all about believing and trusting in one’s sensibilities. “I get soaked when it rains, I walk against the wind on windy days, I’m saddened by a sad story, I watch movies that touch my heart, and I look at the night sky to find stars. These down-to-earth routines are the real driving forces of my creations.”
Text By Arushi Chaudhary
Photographs Courtesy Jaehyo Lee Artist