Noelle Lee, Untitled, 2019, coloured pencil on paper, 35.5 x 35.5 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

OTP Short-Forms: Noelle Lee

@noellexlee

An interview with New York-based visual artist.

Worship, occultism and bringing New York's DIY vitality to Seoul.

Flowing with veinous blues and scarlets, Noelle Lee’s drawings seamlessly blend a serial-killer-style sadist aesthetic with the Neo-cute imagery of internet cartoon culture. After a stint on the Parsons illustration BFA programme, Lee left in 2019 and has since had solo shows at Procell and Wallplay in New York and has collaborated with Vans, Printed Matter and Wiki on a variety of publishing/design projects.

Lee is also the founding director of Worship Gallery, a space that opened in central Seoul at the end of 2019 and has since exhibited work by Park Hyeun Ho, Emma Kohlmann, Atiba Jefferson and Sagan Lockhart.

 

The following interview was produced to coincide with Worship Gallery's Summer 2020 re-opening following global the global pandemic lockdown.

OTP Could I ask you to talk a little bit about where the ideas for your 2019 exhibition 'Renounce Yourself and Suffer'?

NL The idea came very naturally. I am inspired by images and topics that I am interested in outside of my medium and artistic practice.

Before working on ‘Renounce Yourself and Suffer’ I found myself doing two things during my free time, collecting vintage toys and memorabilia along with reading and researching anything I could find, on occultism, vintage weapons, and crime.

When offered the opportunity to have a solo exhibition, I organically gravitated to these topics that I was already surrounding myself with for inspiration.

The juxtaposition of the two sources intrigued me and I felt like they were two strong lanes that would ultimately create work which would give the viewers an insight into who I am as a person, beyond the surface.

^ Pink Moon, 2019 installation view. Courtesy of Worship Gallery.

OTP How do you split your time between New York and Seoul? I noticed that you have curated a few shows in Seoul since 2017 and then of course there is Worship - could I ask you to talk a little bit about how the gallery came into being?

NL I went back to Seoul around four years ago on vacation for the first time and was blessed enough to meet a group of really kind and like-minded people. 

The trip inspired me to visit Seoul a few more times over the next few years, during which I curated and organized a number of events.

They were really aimed at brining my friends and peers’ workrooms in NYC to Seoul and showcasing artwork from both cities in one home - trying to close the cultural bridges between the cities which I believe when you truly experience them, have a lot more in common than most cities around the world.

Following the success of the first few shows, I came up with the goal to start an official gallery space in Seoul, with the same mission of introducing the New York DIY style I’m familiar with to a Korean audience.

After visiting South Korea a bunch of times, I realized a lot of the galleries are owned by corporations and have a smaller pool of true independent galleries aimed at giving a home to promising young artists.

I want to bring the energy that has given me a sense of belonging in NY and hopefully provide it to a new generation of young artists in Korea as well. 

OTP COVID has obviously caused a huge amount of disruption in both cities - what are you are working on right now?

NL On top of scheduling shows to open Worship back up again amidst a pandemic, I’ve been working on some designs for a couple of different skate brands as well as other commissioned work for clothing brands based in NY.

As far as my personal work, I’m taking this down time to work on experimenting with new mediums and trying to expand my artistic direction into other styles and perspectives.

^ Noelle Lee, Design work for Wiki, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Letter Racer.

OTP Who are some of the artists you think about most frequently?

NL For the most part, I gravitate towards artists who have a completely different style than I do or towards artists with very raw styles whose work is deeply rooted in street culture and the world.

There isn’t a specific artist at the moment who comes to mind but I am inspired by friends that are my age like Colin Taniguchi or Chris Wilson who push me to do better. I met Chris at Metropolis, a vintage store downtown when we were both freshman studying illustration at SVA and Parsons.

 

We both ended up dropping out at the same time and through our years of friendship, he was always there giving me advice and helping navigate through life when things got tricky.

We were constantly motivating each other to find our right paths and I think it’s very important to uplift and support friends and artists in your community.

OTP You seem to have produced illustrations for a number of really interesting New York-based creatives working in all kinds of fields - how did your collaboration with Wiki / Ratking come about?

NL Most of my illustration jobs have come about through friends very organically since I’ve been surrounded by artists in so many different fields.

I met Wiki at my friend Adam Zhu’s crib back when they were all living together a couple of years ago in Chinatown. I gifted Pat stickers I illustrated for Christmas one year and one day he hit me up to do an illustration.

 

I would say my first official work for him was an old school baseball trading card merch illustration for Wiki hats through Letter Racer.

OTP Your drawing practice is of course so closely linked with your illustration work, how did you first get into drawing?

NL I’ve been interested in and gravitated towards drawing since a very young age. Over the years I've developed my techniques through trial, error, and practice.

^ Noelle Lee, Breathing, 2019, charcoal and pastel on paper. Courtesy of the artist.

OTP Have you worked much with painting in the past? What about video?

NL Yes, I grew up using watercolor as my medium of choice as well as oil and acrylic later on in high school. I don’t really paint as much as before just because I don’t really like the clean up.

I used to have paint on all my clothes and hair for around 2 years straight when I used to work a job building and painting sets for independent plays so I’m happy I don’t have to worry about that anymore.

I occasionally experiment with making videos but I do that mostly for my own exercise and fun and not as something I’m comfortable putting forth to the public. 

OTP Do you think your use of color is something that comes intuitively to you or did you have to work on it / experiment?

NL I think for the most part it comes intuitively to me. It also depends on the medium I’m using.

The process of mixing and layering colors through oil or even watercolor painting is different from my current medium of choice which is colored pencils.

You can learn techniques from teachers or mentors but I’ve found that only by practice and patience can I learn how to get things exactly to the place where they feel right to me.

OTP What time of day do you like to work?

NL I used to like working through the night and sleeping in but now I like getting up early and working all day and will stop working any time from dinnertime to 11PM.

On days where I don’t have any deadlines approaching, I give myself a 10 hour drawing limit otherwise my carpal tunnel starts to act up.

It’s really nice to be able to get up early and get a lot done by 4PM and still feel like I have the rest of the day.

^ Noelle Lee, Untitled, 2019, coloured pencil on paper, 35.5 x 35.5 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

OTP Are you religious?

NL I grew up Christian but I am agnostic now. I’ve always been fascinated with different religions my whole life which never made sense to me how one belief was the correct way to live your life.

I got in a lot of trouble growing up going to church and asking questions about Anton LaVey in grade school, genuinely curious and not trying to be cheeky or a troublemaker for asking my Sunday School teacher about the founder of Church of Satan.

In general, I do love the whole weird and creepy and cult like aspects of religion and different traditions people still uphold like Latin Mass in Catholic churches.

Religion still does play a big part in my work now which I never thought it would. Renounce Yourself and Suffer was an illustration series where I incorporated a lot of religious iconography and the title itself is very #WWJD.

OTP What kind of movies do you like to watch?

NL Because I spent most of my free time alone growing up, I watched movies constantly and in turn most of my work is actually inspired by movies.

I would say I gravitate towards thriller and crime films the most like Wild at Heart, Natural Born Killers, every film by Park Chan-wook, etc.

Lately I’ve also been re-watching Kevin Smith films since I grew up in New Jersey like Mallrats and Clerks which remind me of my childhood.

^ Noelle Lee, Renounce Yourself and Suffer, 2019 installation view. Courtesy of the artist and Wallplay.

OTP What are you looking forward to in the future?

NL Opening Worship Gallery up again. The first few months of the gallery did so well. We had a ton of pop-ups, exhibitions, concerts, and events planned that all either got cancelled or postponed due to travel restrictions and COVID.

That was extremely hard for a new business where keeping up the momentum is very important.

OTP Whereabouts in NY are you based? For people coming to the city who want to meet creative people where would you recommend they go?

NL I live in Chinatown. I think the best way is to reach out to someone first and meet people through them organically.

I believe that’s the best way to meet new creative people because the city is full of so many different communities and it all depends on your interest.

^ Noelle Lee, Renounce Yourself and Suffer, 2019 installation view. Courtesy of the artist and Wallplay.

Noelle Lee's recent exhibition history includes Renounce Yourself and Suffer at Wallplay (New York), Grant Me the Serenity to Accept the Things I Cannot Change at Procell (New York),  Holding Hands at Pier 42 (New York) and Puppy Love at 22 Ludlow (New York).

Link to Full Exhibition History

 

 

See more from Noelle Lee:

@noellexlee

www.noellelee.com

See more from Worship Gallery:

www.worshipworship.com

 

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