Precision and Instability in Timothy Hyunsoo Lee’s Mind Maps

At Art Stage Singapore this week, Sabrina Amrani presents new work by Timothy Hyunsoo Lee. Lee, originally from South Korea and now based in Brooklyn, had studied biology and neuroscience at Wesleyan University before pursuing art full-time. His geometric watercolors have the patient, detailed look of scientific illustration, but are abstract and reminiscent of landscape.

The abstract forms Lee uses in his work are described as “mind-mapping,” in that they attempt to describe Lee’s own mental states. Most are named with a cryptic number, such as 301.4 (II) and 303.8 (both 2013), which depicts the intersection of two ridge-like structures that meet to form a peak. Their edges fall away into white, and the deeply hued diamond mesh that forms their surface dissolves into pale tones that seem to float away like leaves. Lee’s use of watercolor and gouache allows him to shift between rich tones, such as the multi-colored grid, and the much lighter, paler colors that his matrices plunge into.

Composition II (2014) complicates Lee’s play between form, edge, and the illusion of dissolving even more. Here, the fabric of the matrix undulates and spirals, meeting or ending at strange, tattered vertices. At the top edge of the image, and at each bottom corner, the planes of the wavering form fade into grays and white. The fish scale-like pattern is suggestively biomorphic, and also psychedelic.

One of the reasons that Lee prefers watercolor is for its unpredictability. The medium is only ever partially under the control of the artist and abides just as much by the random interaction with water as it slowly dries. The 2014 painting Gasp, Shit (Composition V) highlights this instability and danger. On top of the complex pattern, a spiral of splattered paint overlaps and is splayed outward to the painting’s edges. The splash looks, at first glance (and with the emphasis of the title), like an accident of the studio. But on closer inspection, its tightly controlled movement hints at the possibility that it may have been carefully planned and executed by the artist, ultimately leaving its intentionality up to the viewer to determine.

Lee’s work depends on exactly these sorts of technical interpolations: the precise paired with the accidental, the fully realized against the unfinished or evaporating, the sharp grid with the rolling landscape. Each dyad depends on the careful balance of both scales to maintain aesthetic equilibrium, which Lee achieves beautifully.

Stephen Dillon

Visit Sabrina Amrani at Art Stage Singapore 2015, Booth H2, Jan. 22–25, 2015.

Explore Sabrina Amrani and Art Stage Singapore 2015 on Artsy.

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