South Korean illustrator Kyutae Lee’s work is hard to describe. Hazy yet crisp, it’s full of contradictions. It’s calming. Delicate. Mystical. There are serene blue skies, bright, blossoming flowers and lush trees.
Seoul-based Kyutae has loved to draw since he was young, and he went on to major in painting and animation at art school. He wanted art to be a regular part of his life, and for it to be a portable pastime, so he could easily sketch the outdoor scenes he loves to work on. “I used a small set of materials to draw on a small piece of paper, and a style naturally came into being,” he says.
Kyutae has continued to make small pieces, especially as he creates largely for his Instagram. They normally appear in small squares, tiny snapshots of scenery, brief moments of journeys that often capture South Korean life.
His style is fairly consistent. His pieces often appear slightly blurred at first, as if out of focus. But look a little closer and the detail is incredible, especially in his use of light. He creates perfectly formed shadows and realistic sunsets, even drawing in a lens flare in some recent works.
Kyutae has also managed to translate his style into short animated videos. Simple yet captivating, they move slowly and often communicate some important message via a slightly left-field story. Look Around, released in 2008, is a moving film about a caveman who is fixated on making the perfect spear to kill a great monster (so much so that he constantly ignores the advances of a woman who lives nearby).
When he finally makes the spear, his grey hair showing the passage of time, he finds that the monster is already dead, and the woman has also left. The film’s title underlines Kyutae’s key point, and it’s as endearing as his other films.
He is endlessly inspired by the natural world. “Nature shows me unimaginable phenomena,” he says. “It's always so full of surprises.” He’s learned to see nature in a way that goes beyond form and shape and color. “The clouds and the mixed glow of the sunset are always subtle. The light that spreads after the rain is ecstatic,” he says.
These stunning landscapes often include people, but they rarely have detailed faces, and this anonymity adds to the mystery of his scenes. The figures are also minuscule compared to their environment, which emphasizes their insignificance compared to the beauty and majesty of their surroundings. Nature is the focus, and it’s calming to get lost in his hazy squares of pastel color.
Words by Alex Kahl.