Isaac Lee: When Dreams Meet Brilliance And a Strong Work Ethic
By Liam Klenk
Isaac Lee is a young international artist of Korean descent. He was born in 1997. I first met him when he was 16 years old. Even then, he inspired me. Isaac dreams big. Yet, I believe, over the coming years he will show us what can happen when dreams meet brilliance and a strong work ethic.
This is an interview with the charismatic young creator, who is mature beyond his years. Isaac just recently moved from the United States to Korea. New frontiers are waiting to be discovered by him… and nothing is impossible.
Hello Isaac, tell us a bit about yourself.
I recently graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute in the United States with a BFA in Ceramics. Shortly after, I moved to Korea. This is the first time I will be living there. Although Korean in ethnicity, I was born in Scotland and have lived in various countries outside of Korea such as Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Philippines, and the United States. This was due to my parents’ occupation as Christian missionaries. Thus, I am considered a Missionary Kid and a Third Culture Kid. Beyond my international background, I am striving to be an artist.
As someone who has lived internationally, what do you feel are the most important lessons you’ve learned from living in many different cultures so far? Can you share a couple of key experiences with us?
Living internationally at a young age has influenced my life drastically in contrast to those who have developed a definition of home by living in one place or area. To have had to live and adapt in various countries temporarily, I learned that wherever I went there were different sets of social constructs. Meaning, cultures and traditions that defined the ways people lived together.
This may sound cliché, but I have realized that those who didn’t leave their home country have a limit in their understanding of what is possible and what is accepted beyond their social constructs.
When I say the word limit, I don’t say it with a negative connotation (nor positive).
Having a limit such as choosing a specific career or creating an artwork with a certain medium and concept means having a focal point and finding opportunities within those restrictions.
I think it’s a matter of how you see this limit for it to be a half-full or half-empty situation.
For me, I was simply exposed to the various ways people lived outside of my passport country. And to have lived in more than one country, my limit to understanding traditions and cultures was set differently compared to the majority.
The limitation I did have, in relation to others, was my parents’ belief, Christianity. How this influenced me would take a whole day to discuss. So, I won’t go into this now.
Overall, I learned that everyone lives with different sets of limitations. And, depending on how each of us find opportunities within such limitations, they form a unique representation of ourselves.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
My inspiration currently comes from my experience as a traveler’s child. Therefore, I find motifs such as clouds to represent my temporal nature with people and environment.
Changing my major midway from Illustration to Ceramics, I look upon artists such as Jun Kaneko, Sam Chung, Sookyung Lee, and more. Both conceptually and visually. Outside of ceramicists, I also look upon artists such as the sculptor Alan Houser or painter James Jean.
Amongst all the artists, the one I look up to the most is Hayao Miyazaki, a Japanese animator and director.
I also gain inspirations from concept-building and storytelling. For example, I take random notes whenever an idea comes to mind during the day such as, “Clouds moving through a forest of apartments.” Or, “Closing your eyes in the real world opens your eyes to the world within.” Another one that I just wrote down is, “A world where dreams can be given as a punishment or as a reward.” (Which actually sounds like Inception now that I’ve shared it with you). I have a collection of these random ideas that I write down waiting to be used.
How has your international life influenced your work as an artist?
As explained above, I’ve been getting a lot of my recent inspirations from my experience as a traveler’s child.
My senior thesis was developed around questions that derived from this experience. With the main question being, “What is my definition of home?”
This was my first time observing my past with such depth and criticism through art. And I would have to say that there’s a lot more to unfold within this topic.
How was your experience studying at the Art Institute in Kansas City?
I would have to say that I was fortunate to learn from the faculty I have met through the Kansas City Art Institute. Each one of them gave me something to contemplate, question, challenge, and/or affirm.
This goes for my peers as well. Before college, my understanding of art was lacking in many ways. Which is why I am thankful for the school to have introduced me to this new world I was unaware of.
What are your first impressions of Korea now that you have moved there?
I would say… foreign but not foreign?
This will be my first time staying in Korea long-term. Being Korean and speaking the language, this feels decidedly strange. Before, I’ve only ever visited for 2–4 weeks, traveling with my parents. This is very weird.
Where do you see yourself at this moment in your artistic work?
At the moment, since I’ve arrived a month ago, I’ve been taking a break from everything.
But, I feel like it’s time to get my hands moving on creating a new piece here in Korea, before my military service. I’ll have to look for places that have a studio space and a kiln for me to work.
Other than that, I’ve been helping friends with projects as an art director in relation to film and design.
Currently, I simply hope to find opportunities to create.
What do you dream of? What do you want to achieve in the future?
There are a lot of things I want to achieve in the future. Almost to the point where people may see it as unrealistic.
I want to continue my career as a studio artist, be a director for an animated film, get into fashion design, and more.
I dream to be a person who challenges this phrase people constantly use with a certain connotation, which is “to be realistic”.
To be realistic, be safe, stable, etc. I hope to thrive by putting myself into environments with various risks and experiences.
Success and failure are not where I want to put my values. But more so, play, vision, stretching the boundaries.
Of course, in order to live by these words, I’ll have to work hard for it. And I plan to continue to be doing just that. Thinking of Miyazaki, here the music “Merry-Go-Round of Life” by Joe Hisaishi, from Hayao Miyazaki’s film Howl’s Moving Castle, begins playing in my mind!