For many artists, the question of one’s distinctive style and identity as painters or sculptors dominates their creative career. Eager to push boundaries of what an artist can do, a young Korean painter Lee Shang Hwa scorns the notion of an artist's signature style and attempts to achieve a sense of complete freedom of expression untouched by desires for recognition, and devoid of fears of criticism. His diversified oeuvre thus includes works that incorporate actual household items next to their hyper-real renditions in oil, landscapes with surrealistically alienated scenarios, meticulous color dots arrangements on jigsaw puzzle-shaped canvases, and miniature watercolor drawings with misleading textual denominations, just to name a few.
Lee's first solo exhibition Through the Maze: Navigating One Artist's Path, held at Art+ Shanghai Gallery, sets out to showcase a full spectrum of the artist's creative expressions at an early stage of his career. Unlike retrospectives that are typically contemplative of a single artist's work created in the past, this exhibition aspires to envision the future of one by revealing what, at first sight, may seem a disorienting variety of narratives that the artist juggles at present.
One way to approach Lee Shangh Hwa's work is to imagine yourself traversing the maze. Unlike labyrinths, mazes are elaborated networks of pathways. With different entry and exit points, hidden loops, traps, and dead-ends, they are meant to confuse and bewilder. It is for this reason, the exhibition invites you to take a walk 'Through the Maze' to navigate through Lee Shang Hwa's artistic universe that is intricately dissected by expansively branching pathways of thoughts and ideas. Embarking on such a journey exposes us to a variety of viewing experiences ranging from puzzlement to revelation, unsettling entanglement to tranquilizing clarity.
The motif of a maze is so pervasive throughout Lee's practice, that almost every series of his work either literally or figuratively present us with a puzzle. His works are intellectual and symbolic games that make you stop and think about the nature of reality and our tacit assumptions concerning it, as well as about art and process of perception in general. The ultimate question that drives Lee's tireless riddle-creation is one of freedom. The clue to resolving Lee's picture-puzzles lies in our ability to fathom its evasive nature.
Each new series of Lee's work reveals a quest towards understanding what freedom truly is, and how to live a life at liberty as a human and artist to fully realize one's potential. Lee's imagery and works' titles correspond with the profundity of his thinking and feeling - Maze, YOLO, What Do You Live for? Attempt, Different Life, Creator's Standard and Your Standard, and many others... His artistic practice acquires a bigger purpose of finding a path to an awareness of self and of man's position in the world.