Family of Faces, 2005. Bronze, 218 x 162 x 113 cm.

Won Lee: The Dionysian Strain

Korean-born sculptor Won Lee lives and works in Toronto. For his studio, he uses an older house with a salon-style workspace, a back porch, and a sizable storage basement (the house where he and his wife reside is on the other side of town). Lee spends time drawing and modeling the figure in clay, often refining the shapes into abstract forms before firing them in his backyard kiln. When he is not working in his Toronto studio, he travels to China or Mexico to cast his figures in bronze. He is a highly prolific and energetic artist, despite the fact that he was afflicted with polio while growing up in Korea. The effects of this disease have never stood in the way of his highly charged production. When constructing a two-meter-high clay model, he works without hesitation, without a break, and often without assistance. Like the early Abstract Expressionist sculptor, Reuben Nakian, Lee belongs to a heroic tradition in sculpture. Less a classical formalist than Nakian, Lee keeps an intense eye on each maneuver as he models the clay, working in direct response to his models. Each detail is attenuated, the treatment comparable in some ways to the late “existential” work of Giacometti. Lee’s figures are focused on a holistic pattern involving texture and exaggerated mannerisms of scale and proportion. He inscribes the ambient parts with a subtle, yet assured tactile resonance and, in doing so, manages to accentuate a faceting of the surface that enhances the feel of the material. Although Lee began as a figurative painter, his move into sculpture within the past decade, after an interruption in his work of several years, offers a forceful interplay with the plasticity of the medium.