South Korean Chae Lee's art investigates perceptual phenomena while depicting vibrant, illusionistic spaces through abstraction. Transient motifs, psychological afterimages, optical effects and other sensations often associated with blackout phenomena or altered states of mind are the impetus behind Lee's paintings. It is almost as if Lee's painting can 'survive' this type of occurrence and wants to convey this experience to those who look at what is on the canvas.
Consequently, the term 'perceptual abstraction' which was coined by curator William Seitz on the occasion of The Responsive Eye, a 1965 Op Art show at MoMA in New York, is perfect to define Lee's predominant style. There is little doubt that his work bears similarities to the kind of vibrant, multi-focal optical effect that was approached by Larry Bell, Bridget Riley, Victor Vasarely and Richard Anuszkiewicz. Lee's works are therefore a very clear example of the 'remodernist' wave that characterises contemporary artistic production today. In Lee's version, the interest in Op Art's sharp angles and flat colours are enhanced by illusionistic artifices created through soft chromatic gradations developed in pasty, shiny consistencies.
She also makes use of the powerful visual appeal that is created when almost identical paintings are shown together or canvases containing specular images of geometric shapes are brought close together. Lee's canvases mark the passage of time as much as kinetic artworks: her geometric compositions, chromatic transitions and progressions of textures measure our sensations according to how long we observe each work. And they even become kinetic if we consider that these canvases require the spectator to move during the period of observation of the works in order to appreciate the optical effect they propose, and such request includes the human body within the system that allows generating the aesthetic experience.
The scientific matrix in Lee's work is expressed in a formalist way and without affecting the classical parameters of the pictorial tradition. The artist predominantly uses oil painting, and the 'content' of the works spills out of the canvas to occupy various positions in the field of semiotics without reneging on the two-dimensional format to be hung on the wall, which has always been a constitutive element of pictorial convention.
By Kalinca Costa Söderlund