Artists have been enthusiastically embracing Instagram as a means to promote their work for some time now but that’s not to say that all art can be effectively represented in the medium. To paraphrase George Orwell, some artists are more equal than others where Instagram is concerned and Korean graphic artist Lee Sol is one of them. With a colour palette of saturated candy-store hues such as bubblegum pink and turquoise blue gloriously popping out of your smartphone’s screen and an eclectic iconography filled with iconic figures and objects you instantly pick up, Lee’s images, posted on his account seductively named Venus Mansion, are the epitome of Instagram-friendly. The dream-like compositions, which mix antique and Renaissance art, modernist furniture and pop culture motifs, can be described as surreal, theatrical or absurdist but above all they are distinctly eye-catching. Lee talked to Yatzer about his project, what inspires him and his search for the true colours that speak to him.
(Answers have been edited for brevity.)
What is the inspiration behind Venus Mansion? How did your background in interior design influence your work?
Working in the field of interior design, I felt that there were certain limitations since I had to work within a specified, physical space. It was from there that my desire to express myself more freely grew (and subsequently my interest in involving the limitation that ‘space’ poses in my works).
There is no one single source of inspiration behind Venus Mansion, rather, I am inspired by all sorts of occasions throughout my day-to-day life — while listening to music, enjoying an exhibition, or when my surroundings remind me of forgotten feelings or memories.
Walk us through your work process. Do you precisely set out each composition in advance or do you experiment while putting it together? Is the whole process digital or is there an element of manual labour like sketching also involved?
I start from observing how personal emotions affect the way I perceive a space. Then I make a record of these observations by sketching, writing, or taking photographs of them, which later on is transferred into the final piece which is mostly done digitally. Sometimes I start with a precise blueprint of what my work is going to be but there are times where coincidence plays its part.
I used to employ manual media a lot more at the beginning of my career, not just in the initial stages but also on the final works, parts of which I would sketch or paint.
Michelangelo’s David and Venus de Milo are prominently featured in your images. What attracted you to these iconic pieces? Is their selection based on aesthetic, historical or personal reasons?
I guess there are personal preferences when it comes to aesthetics and those two pieces are two of my favourites. Plus, I have great respect towards Renaissance Art and the delicate nature of ancient Greek Art. However my intention behind using those images is not necessarily based on their aesthetic value or historical background, but rather, is more about redefining their meaning according to my personal viewpoint.
David and Venus can be said to symbolically represent the ideal beauty of the male and female body. By appropriating, re-purposing and refashioning their distinct iconography, are you questioning or upending these ideals?
People like to deduct the meaning or the use of an object by appropriating its form and applying a frame. Every object in my work unfolds by shedding its original meaning and connotations to finally transform into an element whose purpose is simply to deliver what it is meant to deliver within that specific work.
By doing this my intention is to reveal personal thoughts and feelings through an unrestricted perspective that has no ties to physical factors.
Your figurative images are characterized by a humorous sense of gender fluidity. In one of the pictures Venus appears to have grown a penis whereas in others David is blessed with a sumptuous pair of breasts or adorned with jewellery. Is this a form of commentary on gender politics or are you just having fun?
My work is related to my current circumstances and the incidents I stumble upon rather than my stance on social or political issues. I do find it interesting and fun though when viewers come up with their own interpretation.
You are using a very distinct colour palette of saturated candy hues. What lies behind this aesthetic preference?
It was when I encountered the images from the “Pink & Blue Project” by (Korean artist) JeongMee Yoon that I realized that the guidance we are given as children in choosing what colour to like, which stems from gender stereotyping, can still affect our choices as adults. From then on, I have been trying to adopt various colour palettes in my work in order find the true colours that represent me.
Your work is peppered with eclectic pop culture references such as the fictional characters from Hello Kitty and Ziggy Stardust, David Bowie’s alter ego. What is the significance, if any, of these motifs? And more generally, how do you channel your imagination in the images you create?
My work process involves relocating and repositioning objects I come across in my daily life and turning them into a set scene. The reason why such images are present in my work is really because they are contemporary to us — those images commonly appear are merely cast as props of the scenes I like to fabricate.
How effective do you believe social media like Instagram is in the promotion of artistic output? Does the medium ever dictate the content?
The fact that Instagram is a powerful tool for promoting artworks, among many other things, cannot be denied. The medium can definitely dictate the content as you said, ‘who’ matters a lot more than ‘what’ in many cases on Instagram. Also, due to its massive exposure, especially for Artists, what could be a problem is that the depth or truthfulness of one’s work can be lessened. But even considering all this, I think Instagram has the potential to create an ideal version of reality for all of us.
What are you working on right now? How do you envision the future of Venus Mansions?
I am working on new pieces for my upcoming exhibition in Korea next year and have plans to build solid pieces made of 3D prints with help from New York based Unique Board which will further extend the range of my works to include sculptures or installations. I’m always looking at building a wider diversity of experiences.