For years sculptor Lee JaeHyo lived with his wife, fellow sculptor Cha Jong Rae in solitude and relative poverty, in Yanpyeong, Korea. ‘We started off in a cow shed’, she said, in the video ‘Return to Nature‘ in which Jaehyo shows us around his factory workshop on the original site.
He forges his signature ‘Wooden Sphere’ sculptures by intertwining fallen timber into globe shapes, then burning them to a black, charred state. By polishing off the outer edges he creates a strong contrast of blonde wood and black interior. “I believe you can get more of a ‘wow’effect’ when you create a striking piece from everyday common materials” he said. Many are placed in high-end international hotel lobbies and he is gaining global recognition, with art exhibitions around the world.
‘The globe is the simplest form that demonstrates the wood’s original energy”, explains Lee. “No corners no angles. I like to make the most out of the material’s inherent feeling.” For functionality, he halves the globe and makes a coffee table.
Function follows form in strikingly beautiful and tactile pieces that recycle and recreate, and cry out to be touched, hugged or lounged upon. The creative process is hard, tough – using fire, brute force and manpower. The end result is almost ethereal in its perfection. “Every tree has unique growth rings and colors,” says Lee.
Lee JaeHyo’s other trademark sculptures are his pieces made from stainless steel nails and bolts, hammered and bent into wood. To determine the placement of the nails he scatters stones on the surface, then marks where they land to form a template for hammering. “This is more natural and accidental than deliberate human placement”. The whole is then torched until it is blackened, and the nails are highly polished to form a contrast.
“I have a lot of work to do. More changes are expected,” the sculptor says of his artworks made from found objects – wood, metal and suspended stones.
According to Cha jong Rae: “He firmly believes that he is a sculptor. He never gave up, even amidst economic hardships.” Her husband expresses it this way: “Here I am still hammering away in this digital age.”
Lee JaeHyo, this digital age salutes you.
All quotes from the ‘Return to Nature’ video.