sooim lee : Xinyi  Liu

May   June   July   August    September
May 15, 2024

Dear Sooim,

I feel incredibly fortunate to have met you and to be working with you. I am very grateful to Jiyeon for pairing us together. You are like a shining star. Knowing you has helped me to see the beauty of women at different stages of life. I hope that when I reach your age, I can be as beautiful, wonderful, open-minded, and vibrant as you are.

On our way to Dia Beacon, listening to your life stories, I was amazed at how rich, full of possibilities, and filled with serendipities life can be. What you consider your "unromantic love story" seemed incredibly romantic to me because I would never dare to do such things. Courage itself is a form of romance. I hope to be as brave as you.

I, too, was born and raised in an East Asian country. Although I came to the United States in my teens and have lived here for many years, East Asian culture still influences me to some extent. From a young age, I was taught to study well, get good grades, be well-behaved, go to good schools, and follow a prescribed path at every stage of life, as if these were the correct paths to follow. I grew up adhering to these expectations. Perhaps choosing art as a career was the most rebellious thing I have ever done. 

As I grow older and travel more, meeting people and hearing their stories, I have come to realize that there are no absolute standards by which to judge a good life. There are no essential tasks one must complete. Life is full of possibilities. It is not a set track but a vast wilderness. While I agree with your views, I still struggle to be as brave as you, perhaps due to the cultural constraints I grew up with.

I have always worked hard to do everything in life well, but now I sometimes wonder what truly makes me happy and satisfied. It seems I do not know, like a machine on an assembly line. Fortunately, creating art brings me peace and joy, but pursuing a career as an artist inevitably comes with many pressures, challenges, misunderstandings, and criticisms. 

Therefore, meeting someone as bright as you has been a real delight. There is so much I can learn from you. Every time I hear your stories, I feel enlightened. I think that when I reach your age, I might look back and regret missing out on many wild adventures, haha.

Thank you for the inspiration and strength you bring to my life.

May 20, 2024

To my partner Xinyi Liu

Xinyi, after meeting you, I felt at ease. Before we met, I was a bit anxious. In your photos, you looked like a model. Your slender body and small, concave face reminded me of a popular Korean celebrity, and you looked so young. I just assumed you were in your mid-20s. I was also intimidated because you had a good education and a great career compared to your age. Could I partner with you to Collaborate? I wondered. You're probably wondering why I had such a silly idea, but that's what happens when you get older. When I look at people younger than me, they all look pretty. It's a natural psychological phenomenon. 

I went to your solo exhibition at A.I.R. As I expected, you looked like an actor in the Korean Wave. You have an actor's look, an intelligent and beautiful smile, I thought that if I could go back to my childhood, I would want to look like you. You greeted me cheerfully, and in Korean. You told me that you learned it from watching Korean dramas, and you were very kind to me, defying my expectations that someone with your appearance would be cold and arrogant. On top of that, you were intelligent and sensible, which made you shine even more. I feel your warm heart and I am at ease. I am grateful and happy to have you as my partner.

May 22, 2024

Dear Sooim,

After attending your performance with Kyoung Eun, I was deeply moved. You looked absolutely beautiful in your white dress. I can't quite find the words to describe your beauty, powerful and tempered with elegance. You stand there, as if narrating a story.

Every time when I saw your artwork, I found myself drawn to the simplicity and lines of your minimal compositions. Your works evoke a serene and delicate emotion. After returning from Dia Beacon, I often imagine you as you were at my age. When you mentioned having two graduate degrees in the United States, I picture you studying and imagine the atmosphere of that time. You must have been as beautifully cinematic as a scene in a movie.

I imagine there were not many Asian female artists at that time. Even now, when I return to China, East Asian culture seems to push the idea that a successful career woman might be labeled as “dominant” and “hard to manage,” while marriage and motherhood are regarded as the standard path and the definition of a good woman.

In this cultural context, female artists are often misunderstood. However, I believe women can achieve extraordinary accomplishment in the arts, not merely by fulfilling traditional family roles. As you mentioned, “freedom.” Freedom is something I give to myself, not something defined by external expectations or judgment.

Thank you so much for inspiring me.

Reply to Sooim’s letter on May 20:
June 10, 2024

Dear Sooim,

Thank you so much for your warm letter and kind words. Actually, my appearance brought many challenges to my career, as people often judged my abilities based on my looks. I wanted to be an artist who spoke through their work, not by relying too much on outward appearances.

Therefore, I adopted a very minimalistic routine. I made a point of getting up in the mornings and diving straight into making art, without makeup, grooming, or skincare for years. I wore work clothes every day, as if I were on a construction site, because I believed that an artist’s worth should not be measured by their external appearance. 

I feel that at thirty, I am more beautiful than I was at twenty, as my journey and the lessons I’ve learned have enriched my soul and my features. When I turned thirty, I was truly fond of the person I have become. I have a deeper understanding of the world and life, and I have found clarity on many issues that once seemed beyond my grasp. In my career, I have received more opportunities, as more people saw my work and generously offered me more chances to grow.

I understand when you say you find younger people beautiful, but when I see you, I see a different kind of beauty, one that time has refined and shaped into something unique, more beautiful than the allure of youth. I find your beauty to be timeless. I hope to be as elegant, wise, and beautiful as you when I reach your age.

When we meet next time, I will share some of the new words I’ve learned from Korean movies.

sooim lee, waterfront, 1999, Acrylic on woodblock, 11.25 x 11.25 inches
Water front
sooim lee

I am a woman who was born in Seoul but has lived in New York longer than in Seoul. I grew up in a Buddhist family. I remember my childhood playing in the temple yard, watching over my mother's white rubber shoes as she prayed, wondering who might take them.

I came to the United States to study, got married, had children, and insisted on being an artist. Sometimes, being an immigrant artist was difficult for me, but having my own unique emotions that people here can’t image also made me happy.

The warmth of wearing clothes washed and dried on the rocks after bathing in the stream in my country house, waiting on the hill and falling asleep in tears for my mother who promised to come get me—all these childhood memories have greatly helped me create my own unique works.

After getting married, I had neither the space to paint nor the money to buy materials. I feared hearing an artist's husband say, 
"You should just focus on raising the kids." 
So, at night, when my husband and children were asleep, I would sit at the kitchen table and start painting with leftover materials from my husband. Most of the paintings I did in secret were small. Would there be any brilliant ideas for the paintings I cautiously create at the table at night, fearing my husband and children might wake up? However, the fact that I started drawing made me happy. 

What kind of philosophy can a woman exhausted by life have? As I transferred the emotions of my daily life onto the canvas each day, a lonely woman, a tired woman, a contemplative woman, and a woman enjoying the moment came to life in my paintings.

One thought that has dominated my mind and followed me since childhood is the need to simplify myself and my surroundings. Therefore, in my paintings, I aimed to simplify stories that only I know. This approach applies to my life, my space, and my relationships as well. Just as I prevent situations from becoming complicated by keeping them simple, the lines in my artwork are also simple.

I visited my mother's grave, which overlooks the river. Hoping to hear a farewell from her buried in the ground, I lay down with my ear to the earth. But all I could hear was the sound of the river. I painted ‘Waterfront.’ I wanted to stop what I was doing and sit under the shade of a willow tree to watch people passing by, so I painted ‘No Loitering.’ Wishing to lie leisurely on the clouds, free from worries and cares, I painted ‘Cloud Drifting.’ ‘Gossip,’ the main character has no mouth. Often, I think about how life would be simpler if I had no mouth and only ears. This fear stems from the possibility that my simple life could become complicated because of my mouth.

In the largest city, New York, when I step outside, I confront the pinnacle of the material world: reality. Conversely, the moment I lock the door to my studio, I find myself in a place as isolated as a deserted island. Here, I work as my heart desires, like writing a diary. I paint with the hope that, after many years, a more mature woman than I am now will be present in my work.

Reply to Sooim’s “WaterFront”:
June 10, 2024

Dear Sooim, 

I really love the childhood scenes you depict, as if you have transported me into the beautiful visuals of old Korean movies. I have watched many Korean movies and have enjoyed them immensely, so I can imagine those picturesque countryside landscapes and scenes of your childhood. Maybe one day, we can turn these and your story into a movie. 

I was deeply moved by your story. Have you ever thought about if life could start over, would you choose to become a supportive wife and nurturing mother, or would you pursue your dream of becoming an artist? I have always pursued a career in art that I love, but I am also open to the prospect of marriage and children. In fact, I have always longed for a loving marriage, like my parents have. However, I find it challenging to meet a partner who truly understands and supports my career, who genuinely respects women. But I don’t feel pressured by it because I see life as a journey of experiences. Whether I marry, have children, or not, it’s all part of the experience.

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