5-year Anniversary – A Mini Retrospective

I began my full-time career as a cut paper artist five years ago (the clock started with my first solo exhibition as a represented gallery artist, although I started making cut paper in summer of 2005). Looking back at the works that I have created, there are several pieces that I consider to be door openers.

“Hanging Gown” is the first piece I used the chain link fence motif. Later, I expanded the idea to create series of works including the “Little Crimes,” “Falling Water,” “Memory Windows,” and “The Butterfly Gown.”

Hanging Gown

Hanging Gown, rice paper cutout, 7×14, 2006

“Atomic Jellyfish” is the first large cut paper with an elevated level of intricacy that I created in late 2007. Although taking as long as four months to complete, it allowed me to push the technical and conceptual limits of cut paper. “Atomic Jellyfish” inspired works that came soon after that dealt with both man-made and natural powers.

"Atomic Jellyfish"

Bovey Lee, Rice paper cutout, 2007

“Beach Ball Blast” is significant as it was the first piece that I focused on environmental issues.

Beach Ball Blast

“Beach Ball Blast,” rice paper cutout, 2009

“Falling Water I–V” is the first series that I created as an installation. Coming from a painting background, I was curious to create a painterly effect using cut paper.

Bovey Lee: Water Has A Memory, gallery shot, Gavlak Gallery, Palm Beach, Florida, USA. Thru May 13.

Bovey Lee: Water Has A Memory, gallery shot, Gavlak Gallery, Palm Beach, Florida, USA. Thru May 13.

“Sewing Highways” brought back the narrative-based expressions in my work. I created it after coming back from Beijing in 2010 after visiting the capital of China twenty years prior. The changes in Beijing’s landscape and people’s lives were staggering and overwhelming. It inspired me to create works on the effects of industrialization and urbanization.

Sewing Highways, cut rice paper on silk, 2011

Sewing Highways, cut rice paper on silk, 2011

“Lifting Clouds” is a recent work that explores how we use super machines and high technologies to claim ownership and alter/shape nature to our liking. I developed the concept to create many works in similar vein, such as “Trimming Feathers,” “Painting Corals,” and “Welding Branches.”

Bovey Lee, "Lifting Clouds", 2012

Bovey Lee, “Lifting Clouds”, 2012

“Vase I” modernizes traditional Chinese vases that always depict nature in purity and untouched by humanity. The fact is, there is literally no place on earth that human beings have not interrupted in some way.

Bovey Lee, "Vase I", 2012

Bovey Lee, “Vase I”, 2012


The Holland Paper Biennial opens today

It marks the first time I exhibit in The Netherlands. The Holland Paper Biennial opens today and I have two works on loan to the Museum Rijswijk, i.e., “Office Riot” and “Drum Dash.” The Biennial features twenty-seven international artists is held at two locations: Museum Rijswijk and CODA Museum, Apeldoorn.

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Questions from Lorriane Nam, Illustration Student, Rhode Island School of Design, Rhode Island, USA

How and why did you start using cut paper?

I was looking for a medium that could incorporate all my interests and training as a painter, calligrapher, and digital artist. And I wanted that medium to have a distinct aesthetics and creative process that suit my personality and abilities. In addition, the medium should allow me to mix the old with the new. Paper cutting fulfills all of those criteria and more.

Why do you go through the physical process of cutting paper instead of more time efficient programs such as Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop to create the illusion of cut paper?

After making digital art for nearly a decade, I missed making art with my hands. The physically demanding process of cutting paper is the best part of it all. After a long day of cutting, the aches in my body make me feel so alive. I don’t do it because it is easy and fun. I do it because it’s difficult and painful.

How do you keep your art from being too decorative and too distracting from the original message?

That is a great question. The heavy-loaded message in my work is what keeps it being too decorative. The ornate patterns and intricate compositions draw the viewers in and they soon realize the content is not “pretty.” This paradox is very important. As far as distraction, some of my works are very complex and can be overwhelming visually and conceptually. But that is simply how some things are in life. I try to tell the truth as I see it.

"Beach Ball Blast" computer rendering

"Beach Ball Blast," digital rendering, 2009 (used as template for the paper cutout by hand)

Beach Ball Blast

"Beach Ball Blast," rice paper cutout, 2009 (a complex piece about urgent environmental issues)

Who are your influences?

I have answered this question before. But I can answer it again differently. My influences are people who help to define my life early on. They are not necessarily big name artists but parents, teachers, mentors, peers, and people close to me.

But I do look at other artists, the trailblazers that are wildly successful and history making. These artists work extremely hard and never give up. They have network of friends and colleagues that helped in their success. They are insanely competitive because they have tremendous confidence in their ability and talent. Their work is highly relevant to the time they live in.

What advice do you have for up and coming illustrators/artists?

Here are several things I have learned or wish I had learned:

1. Learn the business of art while you are in school and can take courses other than art. This part of learning takes trial and error and a lot of proactivity because art school still doesn’t teach you how to survive as an artist.

2. Go to the best art program there is and in a location where you can immerse yourself in great community support and opportunities, good museums and galleries, and where you can build a network of friends and professionals in the field.

3. Exhibit as much as possible.

4. Learn to write and talk about your art.

5. Travel and see the world.

6. Work hard every single day.

7. Work with people you trust and respect.

8. A seemingly great opportunity at hand might not be all that great if it deters you from achieving the long term goal. Have the guts to say no and stay on course.