Whether in literature, music or art, the encounter with a character who dares to show us her rawest and most real side is always fascinating. We are drawn to human complexity, and it is often when the character peels off all the layers that protect her and shows herself as she is that we connect with her the most.
Eunsae Lee’s works are populated by women who look at us with expressive eyes and who question us. We catch them in an intimate moment, but we feel trapped in that privacy, as if we were looking through a keyhole at what is on the other side. It is at that moment that the connection with them appears and, if we listen to ourselves, we can feel our instinctive reaction. Do we experience attraction, shyness, rejection? Do we feel identified or frightened? Do we want to protect them, scold them, hug them?
Eunsae Lee takes her inspiration from people around her and from her own experiences to create her characters and give permanence to that intimate moment. She describes her process as less spontaneous than it might seem, creating from the exhaustive study of each figure and drawing it over and over again.
The paintings from her “Night Freaks” series exhibited here in her first solo exhibition at L21 Gallery are portraits of drunken women that defy prejudice. A woman who has been drinking and is out in the middle of the night is often seen as a potential victim, but here what she does is take center stage and free herself. And make it clear that the aggressors are the ones to blame. The artist wanted to empower her characters through their gestures and actions: one of them is urinating in the street, another walks freely and without fear on the beach, another returns her vomit to the viewers.
To give her protagonists even more intention and presence, Eunsae Lee virulently applies bold brushstrokes using elements such as the knife to shape the painting and make the women convey courage or bravery. She also lets some accidental paint spills into her works and chooses contrasting colors, which enhances the strength, expression and movement of her works. Their faces are not well defined, but perhaps what is most significant are the feelings that emanate from these gazes: astonishment, determination, enjoyment, rebellion. Expressionist echoes that blend perfectly with an absolutely contemporary theme.
The works of the Korean artist allow us to imagine what we want without being judged by anyone. If we agree to play by these rules, we will not judge what we see and we will allow the emotions to guide us and the stories to appear.