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7 NOV, 2003

The faces in Sandra Sunnyo Lee’s paintings invite our gaze, as well as our questions: Are these faces male or female? Old or young? Awake or asleep? Are the features those of a person from the east, or the west? When the identical visage repeats in a triptych, we wonder: Is this one person or three? Answers are forthcoming only after spending time in the presence of these calm, finely executed works. Sandra Sunnyo Lee, who describes herself as living an American life with an Asian mind, is well aware of the binary nature of her work. Indeed, her materials of oil and acrylic on canvas are familiar to Americans, even if the Korean traditions that have helped to shape this artist are less so. Yet people of all backgrounds feel that these paintings touch them in profound ways.In this solo exhibition, her first in Chicago, Lee continues her Self - No Self painting series of enigmatic faces. The compositions, closely cropped views of faces from the front, three-quarter or profile, show the features superimposed by gestural strokes of translucent resin glazes or rows of hand-lettered Korean or English text. The words come fromHeart Sutra, a Buddhist meditation on human ethics. While bold rendering reveals Lee’s strong modernist approach, her tranquil imagery evokes iconic traditions. Like the dual cultures Lee moves in, her works simultaneously engage a spirit of innovation and a search for the perennial.

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