Art to Exorcise: Timothy Hyunsoo Maps His Mind in Watercolor

Subjectivity is always present in art, but some artists choose to share themselves more intimately than others. Timothy Hyunsoo Lee openly utilizes art as an outlet for his obsessive-compulsive tendencies and anxieties about his identity. Lee was born in Seoul, South Korea and moved to the United States at an early age. He struggled with this dual identity growing up and when his OCD manifested itself, he felt the need to hide it from his family. Now, art is a way to explore and engage his anxieties in a way that is productive and helpful. 

Lee uses watercolor to create abstract landscapes composed of meticulous marks resembling snakeskin or honeycomb patterns from afar. Up close, you can see that each fragment or “cell” of the pattern is meticulously painted; where the tones are concentrated, each is a different wash of color. The cells appear like chips of painted earthenware or a jewel-toned tie-dye. As they extend to the outer borders of the paper, the cells fade to gray, then lighter gray, and finally become barely visible, slipping away like phantom leaves. The patterns take on different forms in his paintings: molding around invisible shapes, blossoming upward or undulating naturally, like rolling hills in an infinite white realm. Lee’s paper sculptures engage the same repetitiveness and organic patterning. In these, he paints portraits of himself in watercolor, often in the center of the sculpture, with diamond cut-outs fanning out to the edges.

With a method that recalls artist Yayoi Kasuma’s repetitious work, Lee creates visualizations of his mental compulsions. He describes his art as a “cartography of his psychopathology,” a literal map of the workings of his mind. Looking at one of his pieces, you can sense a terrain of sorts and are taken on a visual tour that begins with an intensely focused and ordered accumulation of color and pattern that lightens, trails off, and turns into something else entirely. One wonders if this is a mirror of Lee’s experience while making an artwork: a torrent of nervous energy at the outset resulting in a frenzy of output and concentrated mark-marking that, once freed, is expired and trails off sleepily and peacefully.

—Makiko Wholey

Discover more artists at Sabrina Amrani.

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