Yoora Lee

Yoora Lee (b.1990 in South Korea) is a Chicago-based artist. Yoora received a B.F.A in painting from Gachon University in South Korea, and recently graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago with an M.F.A in Painting and Drawing. Her work has been exhibited internationally including in Chicago and Seoul.
August 24, 2021
Tell us about your practice.
My works deal with questions connected from the past to more recent history and address subjects of my daily life through a set of images recreated from television and the Internet. Many of my works are based on secondary images, a photograph taken from a computer or phone screen distancing further from the idea of objective reality. My paintings are filled with analogous color relationships and wavering horizontal marks that imagine impressionism derived from videotape distortion. My brushstrokes blur the picture like an analog TV glitch, undulating the image as though from an obsolete technology.
You seem to have a soft spot for the 90s – what inspires you from that decade, and how does that reflect in your approach to your work?
I grew up during the transition from analog to digital. I’ve discovered my affection for the 1990s as an adult through social media, movies, and TV drama. Many programs depicting that decade are still popular today. And pre-internet television continues to be my favorite form of entertainment. The TV shows that I watched when I was a kid are evident in my paintings, a reflection of false memories in my unconscious mind. Specifically, I bring the vibes of City Pop, a synth-laden subset of old Japanese pop music and related videos, into my paintings. My images evoke nostalgia for the recent past, as grainy VHS-grade images meet the retro mood of Japanese anime.
In your solo at Jude Gallery you talk about the romanticization of Korea in the 90s as “emblematic of a desire of the past” – is this something you personally desire? What about it inspires you?
I have a fascination with the 90s personally, but replicating the retro mood is also a trend in Korea nowadays since the 90s left a massive pop-culture footprint. Nowadays, the media depicts the 90s as a decade full of humanism and romantic ways. This affected the young generation or my way of thinking over the past decades. And I guess people think the past was more warm, humanistic, and relaxed as they had no worries in this competitive world. 
I think the power of nostalgia is in our imperfect memories and manipulates viewers’ minds and emotions.
You talk about the past being edited and replicated by a generation who hadn’t experienced it. Do you feel a difference between the edited version and what it felt like for you growing up then?
I was very young in the 90s, so I only have a faint childhood memory. The 90s that I encountered were almost only indirect experiences through the media. However, while studying the 90s, I realized that it was not as romantic and warm as the younger generation now thinks. Due to rapid economic growth, the 90s were a very difficult time economically and socially. After all, I think the time of history or the past could be edited and newly constructed by the person who records it. As I saw many images through the screen while working on my paintings, I started to wonder if what I saw was real. The way I edit imagery in my work, different times and spaces are often split and coexist with the figures and images on the screen. I also approach my work as if there’s a screen filter that exists between the painting and the viewer.
Your works take on a sort of melancholic fuzziness – can you talk a little bit about your approach to color and materiality?
What got you into painting as your main practice?
I think painting is the most interesting way to convey my stories visually. 
I started painting since I was very young and painting is always new and difficult even though I’ve been doing it for a long time. I think that’s why I keep doing it all this time.
Can you talk about your approach to color and materiality?
My work captures a lot of desiring moments of the subjunctive mood, that I want to go back to. It is also a self-portrait of myself floating between reality and illusion. So my work is somehow accompanied by emotions such as loneliness, feelings of empty, and melancholia. Expressing these ideas naturally led to the use of many cool-toned colors. Also, the tone of my work is derived from the blue light on the screen or from the faded color of low-quality old video stills. I apply multiple thin layers with horizontal brush marks to create the surface to look like moving images.

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