Artist Stephanie S. Lee was born and raised in South Korea, moved to America as a teenager, and now holds a BFA from the Pratt Institute where she is currently enrolled in a Master’s program.

Stephanie’s style is strongly inspired by traditional Korean art and it has been exhibited all over the United States and elsewhere. Stephanie is an active member of several arts groups including the New York Society of Women Artists, Korean American Contemporary Arts, and the Edward Hopper Art Center.

Aside from being an artist, Stephanie is also an art teacher and a curator.

She has taught classes at Flushing Town Hall and she is currently teaching Korean Folk Art Painting in the area of Queens, New York. Several pieces of her art are also on display at the Demouzy Gallery in Rockville Center, Long Island.

Stephanie recently discussed her life and work in an exclusive Interview.


Blasting News (BN): What first inspired you to become a professional artist and how did you develop the range of styles you work in?

Stephanie S. Lee (SSL): Art was always part of my life since I was very young. I was such an impatient child but when I was painting or making something I could sit hours without feeling bored. That led me to go to art high school and later to become a graphic designer.

My career as a professional artist started after I gave birth to my daughter. Although I was always near art, I didn’t think about myself to be a professional artist. I decided to resign from the work to raise my daughter but being a full-time mom was very hard for me. I was depressed and needed something very badly for self-realization.

When I was visiting Korea to celebrate my daughter’s 100th day and the 1st birthday, I had chance to learn Korean Folk Art and I fell in love instantly. The technique and composition was very similar to design and the symbolic meaning behind the paintings impressed me a lot. I continued to paint when I came back, and started to participate exhibitions as a painter.

Now I’m teaching Korean Folk Art while doing my artwork and also curating exhibitions time to time.

BN: What mediums do you work with most and how influenced are you by traditional Korean art?

SSL: My work is very much influenced by Korean Folk Art painting (Minhwa). I've always had great admiration in tradition. I believe that the tradition is a part of history and without history, present can't exist. I take subject matters and styles from the old Korean folk art paintings and regenerate it with modern perspective. I value and respect the tradition, but at the same time I can't help re-interpret it with my own view. Bridging tradition and modern, and finding unchanging value that transcends time and era through art is very appealing and interesting process for me.

In terms of mediums, I prefer to keep the traditional painting method although it is quiet time consuming sometimes. I use color pigments, natural mineral pigments, earth pigments and ink on Korean mulberry paper or linen. Long process of dealing with these materials almost feels like a meditative ritual.

BN: A lot of your artwork is abstract but you also make some realistic art, so which is your favorite style to work in and why?

SSL: I think abstract art can express very detailed emotions and also descriptive artwork can depict abstract ideas. So, it is hard to tell that I have a favorite ‘style’. But in my artwork, I try not to miss details. For me, present, details and small things in everyday life matters as much as the grand vision and future.

And I want my painting to be clear and easy to read. However, while I paint objects in realistic manners, the idea behind my painting is philosophical so it can be somewhat abstract.


BN: You are currently part of a show at the Demouzy Gallery in Rockville Center, Long Island, so how did that opportunity come about?

SSL: I have participated in many art fairs with the artist group H.O.V. (High on Visual) before. H.O.V. director Dong Hee Lee curated this exhibition and I was invited to be part of this great group exhibition.

Reine Emeish, the director of Demouzy Contemporary Gallery provided the venue for this exhibition. I knew about the gallery because I came to Professor Seung Lee’s solo exhibition so I was delighted to hear from Dong Hee that the group exhibition ‘Multi Lane II’ takes place at the Demouzy Contemporary.

BN: Your work in this show features many animal pictures, so what animals do you most enjoy drawing and who were your models for these paintings/drawings?

SSL: In Korean folk art, there are many animals both house animals and imagery animals, such as dog, cat, rooster, deer, tigers and dragons. I like to play with all of those inherited characters in my paintings but I enjoy painting tigers the most.

In Korean folk art, tigers are painted to ward off evil spirits as a guardian. It is a very strong and powerful wild animal, but in Korean culture it is not depicted as an intimidating creature even described as friendly and humorous. Most of Koreans love tigers so there seems a cultural connection as well.

I personally like the wilderness, boldness, and sole leadership of the tiger. Also, my daughter was born in the year of white tiger, so I personally relate more with tiger. I wish my daughter to be as strong and brave as a tiger.

BN: Are you in any other shows right now and what other shows and/or projects are on the horizon for you?

SSL: I’m curating and participating a five-person exhibition called ‘evolving’ at the Korean Cultural Center in Washington DC in September. I am also curating and participating in a group exhibition called "Queens: envisioning habitats" which will be on display at the Flushing Town Hall in December.