Seong-Gu Lee (b. 1984) is a renowned South Korean artist specialising in contemporary figurative sculpture. By his late-30s the artist had built an exceptional career and established a unique sculptural style. In 2012 he participated in the To Exist or To Disappear exhibition at Gallery Grimson and in 2016 took part in Antithesis at the Gana Insa Art Centre, Seoul, which set the tone for his international success as an artist. In 2017 Lee received his Master of Fine Art degree in Sculpture from the University of Seoul. Since 2018 he has been represented by Eclectic Gallery in London which facilitated multiple group shows and exhibited his masterpieces at the Affordable Art Fairs and Start Art Fairs at the Saatchi Gallery.
Seong-Gu Lee conveys his artistic agenda through two series of sculptures: Solaris and Chiasme. Chiasme or chiasmus describes a pattern of intersecting lines, the simplest of which is the X. Seong-Gu Lee’s philosophy is rooted in the phenomenological theory of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, one of the leading proponents of existentialism and phenomenology in post-war France. In The Visible and the Invisible, Merleau-Ponty argues that the chiasmus is a five-fold bodily relation, referring to the body’s connection to both the visible and the invisible, its connection to reality through the eyes, its experience of tangible interaction between itself and the rest of the world, its linguistic interactions, and lastly the social relations between the One and the Other. For Merleau-Ponty, this fivefold relationship is a phenomenon that challenges the idea of objective universal truth and raises fundamental questions of existence.
Reflecting on this, Seong-Gu Lee says: “All my sculptures consist of both my story and the stories of everyone else in the world. It was created through my hands, but is simultaneously connected and intersected with all the phenomena in the world. This is because I, too, have already been influenced by everything in the world. Therefore, when my sculptures are placed in front of the viewer, away from their cradle, I hope that they will intersect with the gaze of the viewer and become a new image, a new story that I could not have thought of myself. I have no doubt that it is the most significant aspect of my practice and a way to make my sculpture immortal.”
Hence, the main structural element that Seong-Gu Lee uses in his sculptures is an elaborate cross. The Chiasme series consists of a total of 108 pieces with each unique artwork telling a different story. According to Lee, the number 108 is sacred in many religions and represents the individual’s connection to their inner self and to the world. The Solaris series follows on from the Chiasme series: the solar system is used to express the eternity and vastness of human thought.
Lee’s sculptures come in three sizes: medium, large and extra-large. Compositionally they are very dynamic, having been designed to fill and complement the space around them. Some are created as wall installations, while others are free-standing. This inter-spatial interaction between the sculptures creates a strong sense of place, which every viewer can relate to and inhabit while engaging with these intricate works. For instance, Solaris 8 is a smaller figure situated within a bronze metallic circle. The figure’s posture is inviting and contemplative, focusing attention on its inner core. Chiasme 7, on the other hand, is larger and more focused on the expression of its inner strength through a proud, triumphant posture. Chiasme 83 from the same series appears to be in a semi-sitting pose, reminiscent of the Thinker.
Lee believes that a free-flowing exploration of the beauty of the body can offer fresh ways of critically engaging with the world around us and our own relation to it. Through their interaction with the viewer, Lee’s powerfully expressive sculptures extend their “lives” beyond their physical bodies. When contemplating Lee’s work, the audience cannot help but relate to and be moved by the fundamental questions of relevance and mortality, which are embodied in bronze and stainless steel in front of them.