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Forge of Nature – a look at Lee Jae-hyo’s current exhibition at Albemarle Gallery

Lee Jae-hyo : 0121-1110=108107
Lee Jae-hyo : 0121-1110=108107
Wood (larch) 156 x 41 x41 cm (61 x 16 x 16 in)

Lee Jaehyo was born in Hapchen, Korea, in 1965 and obtained his BFA in Plastic Arts from Hongik University, Seoul, in 1992. His first solo show was in 1996, but it is really in the last few years that his career has snowballed, with three solo exhibitions in 2007 and four in 2008 – including one in New York. A prolific artist, he now has a team of people who helps him create his work, without whom it would be impossible to generate the painstakingly crafted. His work has a distinctly modern feel, and would be very much at home in the clean lines of Korea’s contemporary domestic architecture; and reportedly he has a deal with the Hyatt hotel chain to supply his wooden sculptures, of which there are several examples on show at the Albemarle Gallery at the moment.

Lee’s workshhop resembles a forge. A huge log, suspended by chains, is charred over coals. Thousands of stainless steel nails and bolts are hammered into this blackened core, bent into swirling forms, planed and polished flat.

Inside Lee Jae-hyo's studio
Inside Lee Jae-hyo’s studio

The results are sometimes like tadpoles swarming in a deep, dark torrent – the effect emphasised in some of the creations by having some of the nails left largely unbent, so that their heads looked like air bubbles. Other creations are like a pulsating galaxy of stars.

The nails hover like an electron cloud around a black nucleus, while the cosmic theme is continued into the enigmatic titles of the works, all of which start with the formula 0121-1110=1, and each of which delivers a different answer to the equation. A seemingly in-the-know visitor to the Albemarle gallery told me that the formula represents Lee’s name in hangeul transcribed html-readable language.1

Lee Jae-hyo: 0121-1110=108115
Lee Jae-hyo: 0121-1110=108115
Stainless steel bolts, nails & wood 100 x 100 x 7 cm (39 x 39 x 3 in)

Whatever the meaning of the titles, the nail creations seemed to be popular. At the mid-show private view on 22 January, at least four of them had sold – which at up to £10,000 a time suggests that the credit crunch has not completely depressed the art market, at least where a relatively popular artist is concerned.

The other main category of work on display in the gallery are geometric shapes in olive or larch wood, carefully screwed together into pleasingly curved forms – annuli, cones and zeppelins. The pale inside of the logs, naturally finished, contrast strongly with their dark exterior.

Jae Hyo Lee: 0121-1110=1080213
Jae Hyo Lee: 0121-1110=1080213
Fallen leaves 220 x 408 cm (87 x 160 in)

The odd works out were a large panel of dry rolled-up fallen leaves (above), echoing which was a large sheet of pale metal with leaf shapes cut out and bent towards the reader – this last work almost looked the most organic of all the works in the show, while simultaneously bringing to mind the minimalist works of the Korean monochrome artists of the 1970s:

Lee Jae-hyo: 0121-1110=107112
Lee Jae-hyo: 0121-1110=107112
Steel 102 x 240 cm (40 x 94 in)

Lee Jae-hyo’s solo show Force of Nature, containing organically natural shapes forged out of wood and metal, runs till 3 February at the Albemarle Gallery.

  1. Close. Here’s the actual answer. []

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