Dr Edwin Smith Art Review Of Kok Wan Lee Show

August 12, 2021

Bermuda Society of Arts [BSoA] said they had “the pleasure of a renowned artist, Dr. Edwin Smith, review one of their current shows by Kok Wan Lee. This will be Lee’s final solo exhibition on until August 24, 2021.”

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There are lines everywhere. And with them, Kok Wan Lee has succeeded in his intention to stir emotions.

His work, in what is billed as his last exhibition in Bermuda, held at the Bermuda Society of Arts in August 2021, consists of compositions with linear elements that are drawn, scraped, and dripped. Mostly intentional gestures, at times happy accidents. Appearing thick, thin, and undulating, they both claw at and support each other, appearing as strangely inviting barriers.

Lee’s use of line has been refined since his Tree Series. The same can be said of how he has chosen to use his color. While there are no large areas of dramatic color as in his Abandoned City exhibition, color provides pleasing accents in works such as the Klinesque sketches entitled Astwood in the Dark. In the Astwood Park Series 1 & 2, the predominant turquoise color is made more appealing by the textured, layered surfaces and the subtle inclusion of orange, blue, and green.

Along with the two‐dimensional work on display, there are miniature wood sculptures. The arrangements of the painted cedar branches fittingly echo the paintings. They are also reminiscent of Lee’s large installation featuring painted branches seen some years ago at an exhibition of conceptual art at the BSoA. That installation is a work that I fondly remember as a grand magical creation that I would like to see Lee create more of, but I digress.

Interestingly, there appears to be less joy here than in Lee’s first exhibition of the same name. Interconnectedness Series 4, 5, & 6, are playful, happy works, but more present in the room are tones of hesitancy, discovery, anticipation, and aggression. More moody but no less impactful.

The strongest work on display is a series of three vertical compositions on unframed plastic paper entitled Interconnectedness Series I, 2, & 3. Appearing vivid and spontaneous with light lines on a dark surface, this series can be widely interpreted as fantastical, or abstract expressionist or even as a representational illustration of dense foliage. Accentuated with leaves literally strewn on the floor, this series is strong enough to have been featured on the back wall on their own, dramatically providing an anchor for the exhibition.

Naming an exhibition is a challenge, as one wants to encapsulate the experience or stimulate audience interest. Sometimes the decision is obvious. Lee has used the title Astwood Park already, in 2018. Why a Chapter 2? Artists often remain with a subject or motivation and derive what they can, in an attempt to exhaust it, before moving on.

Certainly, Astwood Park is a popular location and a place of inspiration and contrasts. Along with its cove and grassy cliffside park offering coastal views of the Atlantic is the less visited hilltop woodland. Lee prefers the later and has spent more time there. Previously he has shown that he is inspired by the natural world and landscapes. Now he mentions that the park has changed a lot, perhaps deteriorated. I cannot help but wonder if Astwood Park is a metaphor for wider changes and restlessness in Bermuda and beyond.

Certainly Lee recognizes his own evolution. Increasingly he wants to convey “strong feelings of joy, fear, sorrow, and power”. He is more subjective and his desire to share emotions surpasses the allure of natural beauty. His journey is a fascinating one to watch. I remember having him as a student, an eager learner, with first steps adventuring from the culinary to the painterly. I applaud his consistent desire to explore possibilities.

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