Twin Cities artist KimyiBo Lee displayed her most recent creation at the Gage Family Art Gallery on Riverside Avenue at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, in an exhibit that ran from mid-May through mid-July, entitled Blessings II.
This collection is the heart of her three-fold series entitled Blessings, expressing the artist’s experience of “pregnancy and becoming a mother, through patterns and abstract spaces inspired by nature.” Through all of her art, she also desires to convey her ongoing longing for peace.
Becoming a mother has deeply altered the way KimyiBo understands herself and her environment. She is presently attempting to reclaim her identity by observing the connections between her new experiences as a mother and those passions which were close to her heart before she became a mother. “In a way, I am trying to re-discover myself through colors and patterns,” she said. “Blessings I was comparable to quick sketches of feelings or moods relating to pregnancy stages and birth. Blessings II is a further study on tessellations, a form of mosaic, and color in space.”
The prints of Blessings I were each labeled as a specific month of pregnancy, and then grouped into chapters with titles such as Conception or Insomnia. The prints were arrays of shapes and of grey scales, lines and curves. KimyiBo chose patterns intuitively, always in consideration of the gestalt or the overall impression, stating “Through repetition and change of patterns, I tried to create a sense of force in action.”
A few of the prints in the Insomnia chapter of Blessings I (exhibited at the University of Minnesota in 2011) displayed rectangles and triangles forced into curves. The (darker) body of lines and shapes sank downward into another (lighter) mass of curved rectangles.
Pregnancy insomnia is a misunderstood and very frustrating battle which many mothers experience. A lucky few can sleep like a rock, while many pregnant women spend at least half of their pregnancy dealing with the long nights of staring at the ceiling —- with dizzy, exhausted days to follow. KimyiBo explained, “I thought of insomnia as something … heavy and slow-moving. Globular shapes and achromatic palates convey that kind of emotion to me.”
Nature is one of the lenses through which KimyiBo interprets life. She often finds a strong connection between her emotions and the natural environment around her. When she encounters a shape or a sensation in nature that resonates with her personal feelings, she takes a mental note of the atmosphere, movements, or temperature. She generally doesn’t force herself to define her emotions before she commences a project; the meaning of the piece comes to her during the process of creation.
KimyiBo is passionate about how shapes occupy space and about how the space makes gestalt. She described the process of Blessings II as a study of applying colors to tessellation, sheets of double-sided paper tiles which overlap in a three-dimensional space. Each tile had cross-hatched-line patterns on one side. The 144 tiles displayed 144 different combinations of color. Each tile was made of four octagons. On the other side of the hanging sheets of paper, KimyiBo used soy emulsion as a binding medium for dry pigments (using only black, yellow, magenta and cyan) and fashioned her own range of colors which gradually shifted in chromatic and achromatic hues. She said her ultimate goal was to observe and also to discover how different hues would occupy the space.
I asked KimyiBo how the technique of tessellation was related to pregnancy or to peace. “Math and biology used to be my favorite classes in high school. I think my patterns naturally come to me from my science and math mind. To me, repetition is a way to build up energy. I use tessellation to reenact the movement and the force I see in nature.”
KimyiBo took the gallery visitors on a walk with her and wove us all into the gestalt of her strategic stripes and her chromatic/achromatic ambience. There is an overall sense of a shifting environment. The images swiftly change in the same way as children transform. In the blink of an eye a baby comes from a seed and suddenly she is talking. In anything so grand, so big, so messy and confusing —- such as pregnancy or mothering, shifting hues and overall impressions speak volumes. There are the dynamics of shifting waistlines, priorities, relationships, and marital cues.
In describing the link in Blessings II among the characteristics of pregnancy, motherhood, nature, and peace, the artist said, “Finding peace in my life as an artist-mother has been a challenge. When my first daughter was born, my mom came from California, to help for the first few weeks. When my mom left for California I felt as if I was thrown into a new role with life-consuming responsibilities.” She recalled, “I was an anxious mom who did not want to let go of her own desires and passions. My daughter was a 15-month-old when I had my exhibition of Blessings I at the Larson Gallery (University of Minnesota), she said. “I realized my time as a mother with a baby is limited, and later I would deeply miss it. The title of the trilogy, Blessings, came to me with this realization.”
Being an artist and mother is like walking on a tightrope,” the artist said, “balancing love for my children with still wanting to pursue all of my old interests and passions. Although at times it seemed that I had to choose one at the cost of the other, gradually I am learning to nurture them both together.”
Dynamic equilibrium is a favorite concept driving KimyiBo’s artistic genius. Ideas move and change, yet are in balance. Since 2006, she has experimented with the unveiling of equilibrium in visual form. She has studied the works of Korean artist Jung Sun (1675-1758) who expressed dynamic relationships of yin and yang in his landscape paintings. KimyiBo reinterpreted his black and white brush paintings into color, and she eventually removed any recognizable objects from his original, emphasizing only the regular brushstrokes and the fundamental patterns.
Perhaps the simplification of those objects was what enabled her to more easily witness shapes in nature and then gather those impressions into her new identity, the ever-shifting gestalt.
Jenny Wheatley, the gallery coordinator at Augsburg College, observed the responses of many guests at the Blessings II exhibit. She said the exhibit is so unique because it is experiential. The hanging rows of paper and color that people could walk through served as an entrance into KimyiBo’s own mind. Adults walked in slowly, taking in the loud splash of the oranges and the bold pinks. Children saw it as a game. How fitting that warm oranges and reds would be found in a work of art reflecting motherhood. When one’s circulation is working hard on an invisible, internal work of art, that woman needs to fix her gaze towards bright and mood-boosting colors; she may not be emitting a lot of vibrant color or warm conversation herself. We become what we behold.
In Blessings II, I also was hit hard by the cool colors; they found me like a refreshing breeze on a hot third-trimester day. I was struck by the shifting itself. From warm to cool, the chromatic hues slid up and down the intricately-striped tapestries like a visual wind-chime. Lastly, I saw leaves and trees. As a lover of trees myself, it was profoundly calming for me to weave between KimyiBo’s green and gold octagons.
On a philosophical note, it hit me that this exhibit reflected many of the transitions a woman must experience during pregnancy. A young woman may face the world and her relationships head-on, with warmth, but as the baby grows quietly and secretly inside, a mom is increasingly and intensely forced inward, to feed an invisible person, to rest for the sake of an invisible person, to converse more with this tiny friend, to offer less words to the outside world. Warm to cool.
Similarly, in marriage, the hot conflicts and the cool distance that can sometimes be attributed to hormones are beautiful, just as Blessings II is beautiful. Sometimes the relational colors clash because men don’t understand what their woman is going through in pregnancy or motherhood.
Being misunderstood by the world of men feels ugly, but, like every challenge, the experience of being misunderstood must somehow be received as a gift to be embraced. The husband to a pregnant woman is acutely aware that it feels ugly to live with a large, angry, sad, hormone-intoxicated bride. Yet, changing moods and changing relationships are beautiful because life is beautiful and because existence is a gift.
When the challenging blessings are received with thanksgiving, the small seeds of peace are then given space to shift, to grow. My own children, and KimyiBo’s children, spin daily around the house as if caught in the washing machine. In their whirling “force in action,” they send off headaches, crumbs and stray socks, right and left. These are blessings. Our mother-eyes rest on one small nose and the perfect ears for just a moment, and our hearts are silent and warmed. In the womb of chaos, peace may be silently forging its shape.