Susan LandauerMarch 11, 2007
On the occasion of our exhibition IL LEE: The 90s opening September 13, 2018, below is the Foreword by Susan Landauer from the exhibition catalogue — Il Lee: Ballpoint Abstractions — that accompanied Il Lee’s mid-career survey at the San Jose Museum of Art in 2007.
Installation view of IL LEE: Ballpoint Abstractions at the San Jose Museum of Art, 2007. © 2007 Sue Tallon Photography; Courtesy of the San Jose Museum of Art.
Recently a well-respected art historian confided to me his belief that the tradition of abstract art had reached a state of exhaustion, its contemporary practitioners now doomed to repeat themselves. I strongly disagreed, countering that abstraction was a classic language comparable to jazz, open to infinite extension and refinement. More than any contemporary artist I can think of, Il Lee proves my point. Jazz has been around for not quite a century, while Lee draws from a tradition that has survived for more than a millennium—the Asian tradition of ink drawing on paper, known to the West by the Japanese term sumi-e. Lee has given new life to this ancient practice, transforming it nearly beyond recognition. The expressive inky line remains, but Lee’s use of ballpoint pen gives his art a freshness and originality that satisfies the avant-garde craving for the new. In Lee’s hand, line achieves tremendous power and a range of moods and “personalities.” At times it is strident and aggressive, ejected in great profusion. Yet Lee’s touch can also be delicate, presenting a multitude of quivering, undulating strokes that suggest blades of grass stirred by a gentle breeze. In all cases Lee demonstrates a mastery of line that is breathtaking and absolutely unique—proving that abstraction is still very much alive and well.
– Susan Landauer