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(Yonhap Interview) From pop art to abstractionism, Lee Dong-gi's art is constantly evolving

Interviews 13:34 November 09, 2018

By Woo Jae-yeon

SEOUL, Nov. 9 (Yonhap) -- Lee Dong-gi has been best known as one of South Korea's first-generation pop artists since he created, in 1993, the pop character "Atomaus," a combination of the popular Japanese character Atom and Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse.

The description alone, however, miserably fails to do Lee justice.

A closer look into his art world hints at the 51-year-old artist's resolve to push himself and overcome his own limitations as well as his ever-expanding interests into what is happening around him and the community.

This photo provided by Pibi Gallery shows artist Lee Dong-gi. (Yonhap)
This image shows a painting from Lee Dong-gi's "Atomaus" series. (Yonhap)

His new exhibition is currently taking place at Pibi Gallery in the artsy neighborhood of Samcheong-dong in Seoul.

The six paintings on view at the gallery were "very carefully selected from a lot of works of mine to show the artistic direction I have been pursuing in the past few years," Lee said during an interview with Yonhap News Agency on Thursday.

From as early as he could remember, he spent his days painting and doodling. His parents let him freely doodle all over the house. When he wasn't painting, he was glued to the television watching Japanese animations and Hollywood films.

This image provided by Pibi Gallery shows "Snoopy" by Lee Dong-gi. (Yonhap)

"When I was growing up, Atom and Mickey Mouse were always near me. They were ubiquitous and part of my life," he said.

In university, he started experimenting with familiar cartoon characters. By then, many Western contemporary artists had been actively engaged in pop art that blurred the line between high and low art. But in Korea, he was among the first few who dared to do that. His works were often dismissed as trivial and not serious enough to be art.

"I received mixed responses. Some disliked my works, but there were some who expressed their interest and cheered me for doing something new," he said. "The fuss didn't bother me at all because I was just doing what I wanted to do. I had set my goal, and I was sure about it."

This image shows a painting from Lee Dong-gi's "Doubled Vision" series. (Yonhap)

Since its birth, Atomaus has been evolving and morphing into many different art forms. In what the artist calls "double vision," the character is placed in juxtaposition with the abstract painting on the upper half of canvas. Abstractionism has, the artist said, always interested him since he started doing art. In another genre, which he called "eclecticism," many different images and characters, including Atomaus, are painted in layers, colliding with each other and coexisting in somewhat uncanny harmony.

Throughout the interview, the artist expressed his long-held interest in abstract paintings and how he wanted to combine the realistic and abstract worlds together.

"I've been mostly expressing images I could find in the real world. But abstractionism is the exact opposite to them. They don't have concrete images and are a totally different world. What I am doing is putting them together in one piece."

He hopes to see his art world expand horizontally, like the way his Atomaus does, not go deeper into one topic.

"English artist duo Gilbert & George once said they wanted art for all. I want art about all. I am not the kind of artist who does one thing and one thing only, but who covers many different topics," he said.

The exhibition runs through Jan. 19.

The image provided by Pibi Gallery shows "Take Me to the Top" by Lee Dong-gi. (Yonhap)
The image provided by Pibi Gallery shows "Pink Panther" by Lee Dong-gi. (Yonhap)


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