Meet Stephanie S. Lee, one of QCA’s talented members and a longtime Queens resident by way of South Korea. Her story echoes that of many other creative citizens in our borough, with an immigrant experience that informs her craft. Read on for the first entry in our Member Memoir series!
What is your discipline?
I do paintings inspired by Korean Folk Art. With my graphic design background, I do exhibition design.
How long have you been a practicing artist?
I’m originally from South Korea. Since my childhood, art was always around me. I went to art high school and at age 19 came to Pratt Institute to study graphic design. I proceeded further into [the] art industry and became a graphic designer. Now I’m settled as a US citizen and have been living in Queens almost 20 years. Queens is my home.
I think I was more passive when I was in South Korea compared to what I am now. Part of it is because I was young, and another part of it is because of the traditional culture that emphasizes hierarchy in many aspects. It didn’t occur to me to become a professional artist until 2010. While I spent my time raising my child after [resigning] to concentrate on motherhood, my desire to paint and draw became clear and bigger.
Around 2010 I visited Korea and had a chance to learn Korean Folk Art painting for the first time. Since then I kept painting and it lead me to do exhibitions and I developed as an artist.
What has been your experience as an artist living/working in Queens?
I’ve been living in Queens more than 15 years.
Here, I’m a kindergartener in everything. Language is different, culture and people are different and I’m facing something new everyday. [Queens] transformed me to become more proactive and I’m not afraid of [asking] questions since I’m from a different culture.
This kind of attitude is very important to the artist. Artists need to be actively seeking new perspectives and not afraid to ask questions and express themselves even to the people who [differ]. Living and working in Queens helps me a lot in that sense.
If you think [of] everyday life as inseparable from art, living and working in Queens does affect and inspire me since [it’s] such a large portion of my everyday life.
Some artists prefer to work in foreign places to seek stimulation and inspiration. But since I have a young child, I can’t travel around at the moment, so I adjust myself with what I have. I also think one can express fully when they are in [a] comfortable environment. I’m comfortable in Queens, where I know where to eat, commute and get materials. And I think it helps [to be organized], which allows me to have more time to paint.
Queens is local but not too far from the city so you can enjoy both rural and urban environments. It is a very diverse and energetic place that is essential for artists to expand their perspective. Every moment I spent in Queens adds up to my life and my life is reflected in my paintings.
I don’t believe that artwork and artists are two different things. I think good work is from a good person. Artwork is [a] consequence of [an] artist’s life. So I try to live life well-balanced, and try my best to be genuine and original in everyday life.
Also, I remind myself that there is no competition in art. The dignity of the artist should come from inside out, not by comparing, copying and competing.
Which of your projects would you like to tell our readers about?
I teach Korean Folk Art painting in Flushing and Bayside. It was not easy to find a place to learn traditional techniques and get materials when I first [started] painting Korean Folk Art. So I decided to provide a place for Korean Folk Art enthusiasts to experience and paint close to them.
In addition to teaching Korean Folk Art in Queens, I often curate group exhibitions with fellow Korean artists in public venues including libraries and museums. I think it is meaningful to showcase contemporary and traditional Korean visual arts to general audiences in the places that [are] easily accessible to [the] public.
Understanding other cultures is key in this global world and art is one of the best forms to [learn] about other cultures. Interaction with fellow artists through exhibitions strengthens bonds between artists so we can move forward, overcome obstacles in art careers and grow together.
In 2019, we are planning to have a group exhibition called ‘Threads & Pigments’ at the Flushing Town Hall. It is a group exhibition of nine Korean American artists. Sharing one heritage as Korean-American, each artist will create new artworks, embody diverse and dynamic philosophies depicted through materials such as stitched threads and color pigments. Pigments symbolize the diversity and thread symbolizes the connection and relationship of races and cultures.
This exhibition will be a start of Community Outreach with Art program (COWA) that I envision to be held in Queens and public venues in other local areas. Culture and art is something you can’t teach in [the] short term. Exposing audiences to exhibitions like this will help viewers to engage with multicultural aspects, both traditional & contemporary without boundaries and to understand diversity.
Which of QCA's resources has helped you the most with your art?
[The] Under the Hood program I participated [in] several times helped a lot. Besides advice and training on artwork, artists also need to learn [the] practical side of art careers. Not many art schools teach it. QCA’s program helps artists in this practical aspect. They provided really essential knowledge such as how to write artist statements, how to write a grant proposal, how to prepare [a] budget, etc. Their passion and effort on helping artists impressed me, and I’m really thankful Queens has this organization for artists.
Tiger and Magpie
2018 | 18” W x 24” H
Natural mineral & color pigment and ink on Hanji
Cabinet of Desire III
2017 | Natural mineral pigment & ink on Korean mulberry paper
30˝ (H) x 24˝ (W) x 2˝ (D) each