When I dropped in the studio of Lee Gil-Rae of Goesan in the Chungbuk province in sprinkling spring rain, there were a number of trees standing in the yard a bit disorderly in the rain. Part of them were so terribly warped and entangled each other that they looked like a transformed and distorted shape of grappling wrestlers or like the fresh of fowls of which hair were pulled away. Most of the remaining, however, could be called as trees since the trees reached their branches toward the sky though branches were very tortuous and rather small. Small wood consisting of his works is opposed to real trees planted in the yard and seemed to produce subtle harmony and contrast. The 'enchanted wood' in a word is the landscape produced by the trees, of which stems are overly bloated compared to short branches, placing itself upside down with waist cut off, making a circle regressing toward the earth, uterus for trees, rather than vertical growth. Exaggeratingly speaking, it looked like as if I had seen the ecological disaster.
Meaning of the ecological disaster here is that his works are expressing trees but they do not bear slightest resemblance to trees and rather associate with trees which might be grown in the mysterious and supernatural imaginary forest. His monstrous trees stir up our ominous imagination as if they were newly emerged plants on Earth after collision with a strange planet or proliferated abnormally by human desire. It also shows that he did not pay much attention to reappearance. Though atypical abstract forms are interlocking each other, however, it cannot be denied that motifs of his work start from trees. It is also worth notice that the pine tree is the model. As pine tree is widely distributed across the country, it has been our most valuable source of building materials and furniture and was once used as an energy for pebble warming. Like this, pine tree has been the most familiar tree to us and has also served as the symbolic meaning of principle and honor beyond a practical level as a evergreen tree.
Now it is clear that Lee Gil-Rae is creating a pine tree to capture something more than to reproduce the shape of a pine tree. The pine tree means 'cohesion' for him. Meaning of Cohesion is the formation of the particles to lump together and it is consistent with his methods of creation. He creates the shape of the pine tree by welding pieces of thin slices of copper pipe. The surface made by tightly weaving these thin slices, which are bigger than rings but much smaller than bracelets, looks like the epidermis of the pine tree cracked like turtle shell. With this epidermis made by connecting rings, his hollow pine tree becomes very strong. As he puts emphasis on highlighting a lump, it is more important for him to create a similar solid to tree than to make the tree itself. The trees produced this way do not take roots in the earth but have a form of surviving independently above the earth. Though it is not a tree thick of needle-like leaves, it would not be hard to associate vitality of the evergreens with this coherent structure.
Lee Gil-Rae showed me a work just in progress in studio. It has different forms compared to other works already completed. He made lots of leaves of conifers with sliced thin copper bar and has pasted branches with them. This work is similar to reality compared to other works with trunk and branches only. Watching the work, I felt as if I had seen a paint of old pine tree. Reproduction is, however, still not purpose for him. He has used his house, where he once lived with his family, as studio and reading room and I was able to find an interesting drawing there. A drawing for the leafy pine tree was placed on the wall of studio. Actual form of the work as well as specifications were written down on the drawing. Besides he has already drawn lots of sketches with steel pen. A poet out of this sculptor's juniors stop over this studio prior to my visit. He wrote an improvised poem then and it was also placed there. I remember that Lee Gil-Rae was described as 'an artist painting in the sky with steel pen' in the poem.
Anyway the drawings I saw there proved that his work was not done at his discretion by intuition in the course of production but was conducted deliberately. That is, the form of his work is determined by the drawing. The drawing was made with elaborateness and prudence of design drawing's level so the results can be easily estimated when it is expanded to a three-dimensions. It can be shown from the relief works attachable to the wall. One has the co-helical structure like ammonites and the other looks like a mountain range with many trunks piled up. There is also a wood captured only trunks of pine tree and all these are very picturesque though they are sculptors. The structure produced by trunks of trees piled like crease of the earth implies 'accumulation and continuance of time'. It is also found from the annual rings expressed on the part cut off epidermis linked with numerous rings, trunks and branches. The signs could also be called as a fingerprint of times.
If so, what Lee Gil-Rae wants to say through these trees. Anyone can see that he is projecting himself on strength of pine tree. If we are looking beyond that, he might make us aware of the finite of the human beings by presenting marks of the accumulated time. His way of doing work looks simple and honest but it is also an action of accumulation of time and adaptation to passage of time. However, he does not simply submit himself to time but looks it back through torpid process. Although his work is focused on presentation of cohered form itself, it is a matter of our sense to ruminate of life through it.