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Review of New Vision: Ballpoint Drawings by Il Lee at the Crow Collection of Asian Art

Untitled 801 by Il Lee

Untitled 801 by Il Lee (Image courtesy of artist and Art Projects International)

New Vision: Ballpoint Drawings by Il Lee
Crow Collection of Asian Art
Through September 26, 2010

Free and open to the public in the LinkAsia Gallery

Remember the spirograph toys popular in the ‘70s?  I received one as a gift when I was eight years old and quickly lost interest in it, because I felt confined to only produce perfectly mathematical hypotrochoids. I threw out the gears and shapes, but kept the pens. Though I was pegged at being quite the linear thinker early on, I really enjoyed freedom in my sketches.

This current exhibition at the Crow Collection of Asian Art takes me back to those days and makes me wish I could find my old sketch pads!

Il Lee, a Korean-born New York artist, creates his innovative New Vision: Ballpoint Drawings, solely with ink pens.  And if the large Plexiglas container in the gallery is a true commentary, he uses pens that are the cheapies I abhor due to their tendency to leak globs of ink at inopportune times.

Untitled 801, 2001 is one of a long list of favorites for me and the one to which I gravitate during the break in Saturday morning Tai Chi. I love the mounting of this work; not flat underneath the glass.  The paper is allowed to buckle in areas where it is heavily laden with ink or densely etched from the pen strokes.  Yet, somehow the paper still seems to flow with the grace of Lee’s abstract lines.

Before the last Crow After Dark event, I would have told you that in this work I only see the playful curls of my niece’s dark hair, as she giggles and runs through the park at remarkably slow speed.  On that evening, however, I brought a friend into the gallery to see Lee’s work and said friend expanded my view.  It was his first viewing of the exhibit and his immediate response to Untitled 801 was that it brought to mind Van Gogh’s Starry Night.  During these evening events at the Crow, the galleries are low lit and somewhat dramatic. So at that time, I did see the swirling clouds and the way Lee’s pen strokes keep your eye moving, just as Van Gogh’s paint strokes create a movement that draws in the viewer.

In some areas there are so many overlapping strokes that you wonder if they were put there by chance or if the artist foresaw the eventual complex, but non mathematical, spiralgraphs that flow and draw you into inky denseness.   Yet, in the darkest and most heavily ink laden corner of the work there is not a void flatness; you can still see and feel the intensity of Lee’s pen strokes.

The heavy white textured paper used in Untitled 801 is untreated.  Lee’s purposeful pen strokes score the surface, creating an enhanced visual texture I just want to reach out and feel.  His powerful swirls are not confined to the page and I love it!  They depart and return with the same potent fluidity with which the left the page.  You can see the grooves in the paper where a pen had no more ink to put forth into Lee’s strokes. These grooves, while void of ink, still leave a meaningful mark. And yes, you can also see the inevitable consequences of using those cheapie pens; globs of ink! These anomalies, generally perceived as imperfections, do not mar or take away from the work. They complement the wonderful energy of Lee’s abstract drawing.

The ballpoint pen has been Il Lee’s medium of choice for over 30 years.  In this exhibition, you can enjoy his abstract style through large scale pieces, as well as many smaller works.  These pieces are in the medium for which he is best known. But, don’t miss out on the wonderful treat in the museum’s lobby: a work created with acrylic, oil stick, and stylus!

I find Lee’s work uncontained and powerful; yet also peaceful.  Viewings of this exhibition have left my mind consumed, freed and inspired. I would love to have one of Lee’s works in my collection.

Click here to read other reviews by Tanya Miller.

Untitled 801 by Il Lee

Untitled 801 by Il Lee (Image courtesy of artist and Art Projects International)

About Tanya Miller

Tanya is an art enthusiastic who relocated to Dallas after living abroad in Europe and Australia. She enjoys collecting art from her travels and interacting with the artists even more. Managing and curating the student art gallery, along with advanced studies and exhibition of her black & white 35mm photography, provided the much needed balance to her technical undergraduate studies. A Southern California girl at heart, Tanya enjoys an eclectic mix of artistic styles and is thrilled with the diversity of talent in the Dallas Fort-Worth Arts scene, where she is a docent with The Crow Collection of Asian Art. Interact with Tanya on Twitter at

5 responses to “Review of New Vision: Ballpoint Drawings by Il Lee at the Crow Collection of Asian Art”

  1. Cornelia Cree says:

    So much “modern” art has been for decades a real yawn, but these ballpoint works at the Crow were terrific and so original. I liked the Ansel Adams works too and the baskets are high quality, the kind you would buy for your home and then display on a shelf as art.

  2. Danielle Mifsud says:

    I find this review quite inspiring! Although I am not able to see it for myself, I feel as though I am still able to process the impact the piece has had and what it could mean to me.. I love the insight into all the details especially the mounting.

  3. Tanya Miller says:

    Cornelia, I love the baskets! There’s such a unique story for each one. Of course, the one I love the most is probably the least functional.

  4. Tanya Miller says:

    Danielle, thank you and keep an eye out for Il Lee to come to a gallery near you! I truly hope you get to experience his work up close and personal.