Box with Mother-of-Pearl Character Pattern W. 36.4cm, D. 25.9cm, H. 9.5cm
Created in 1987, this Mother-of-Pearl Character Pattern Box embodies some Chinese characters such as 月, 夜 and 五友歌 by cutting mother-of-pearl into slender strips which are overlapping with the song lyrics ‘This is where my darling took a stroll with the moon shining brightly from the south of the river’ by carving out pieces of the mother-ofpearl with a fretsaw. This work reflects the artist’s lyrical mind, its longing for his hometown in the south on a bright moonlit night.
The Chinese characters vigorously depicted using the cutting technique, and the Hangeul (Korean alphabet) characters rendered by carving out and fracturing pieces of the mother-of-pearl, are all harmonized by Lee’s unique creativity and skills that nobody can copy. An elaborate composition is revealed in the arrangement of colors through applying lacquer onto the background, and the sense of space as well.
To deliver a pictorial feeling and vitality, Lee dared to leave out the rough-sketch process of making a design on paper, and instead went right into affixing mother-ofpearl pieces on the lacquered surfaces as if painting a picture. Such an attempt could be made only by Lee, who has excellent painting skills; that’s why we can feel a distinct pictorial quality from his work.
Born in 1933 in Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang Province, he graduated from Tongyeong Commercial High School and then entered the Provincial Polytechnic Institute of Lacquerware Inlaid with Mother-of-Pearl, the country’s first such institution of its kind, which led him to become a professional artist. His works were selected at the 4th and 9th National Art Exhibitions in 1955 and 1960 respectively. He received the Grand Prize at Dong-A Craft Competition in 1986 with ‘Mother-of-Pearl Document Box inlaid with Peony Design’, for having successfully revived the techniques of the Mid-Joseon period. He had his first solo exhibition of his paintings in Tongyeong in 1955. His 1st Solo Exhibition of Mother-ofPearl Lacquer Craft was held in 1978 at Serona Department Store, Seoul, presenting designs of reed grass, waves and others embodied with a mother-of-pearl cutting technique that reproduced traditional techniques of lacquered craft mastery. His 2nd Solo Exhibition was held at Lotte Art Gallery, Seoul, in 1987. Commissioned by the government on the occasion of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Korea in 1989, he produced a lacquer box with mother-ofpearl inlay. It is currently housed at the Vatican Museum of Rome. His works are now also on display at such museums as the Seashell Gallery of Japan and the National Folk Museum of Korea.