Featured Artist Interview

Ailyn Lee creates surreal spaces of comfort and wonder

Published on
October 26, 2022
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Explore in our newest feature the wonderful and talented artist Ailyn Lee, who we were lucky to discover on Instagram.

Sourcing imagery from her daydreams

Ailyn Lee (b.1994 Seoul, Korea) is a contemporary artist living and working in New York City. 

She received her MFA in Fine Arts from The School of Visual Arts (SVA) and her BFA in Illustration at The School of Visual Arts (SVA). 

Lee creates multimedia art installations and short films that are surreal spaces of comfort and wonder. 

ailyn lee, artist interview, munchies art club
Ailyn Lee | Studio in New York | Image courtesy the artist

1. Who is Ailyn Lee? Please introduce yourself.

I create multimedia art installations and short films that are surreal spaces of comfort and wonder. 

When I first left South Korea for the United States, the unfamiliar environment triggered feelings of panic and anxiety. 

I began to dream up surreal scenes that made me feel safe and comfortable. 

Daydreaming became not only a coping mechanism, but also a source of inspiration for my artwork. 

ailyn lee, interdisciplinary installation, contemporary art daily on view
Ailyn Lee | The Room of Ego-Splitting 2020, interdisciplinary installation, polyester fabric, oil, oil sticks, acrylic, epoxy, plaster, clay, wax, mother of pearl, key, keyhole, polaroid photo, canvas, wooden cabinet, 9.8H x 16W x 9.8D FEET | photo by Ailyn Lee 

I source imagery from my daydreams to create a theatrical atmosphere. 

The background scenery is drawn from familiar domestic spaces I often occupy in my dreamlike state.

I proceed to fill this stage with imagery, such as antique furniture and accessories, keys, shoes, vases, and sculptural busts. 

These symbolic items are relics of important and happy places from my childhood, such as my mother’s sculpture studio and my grandmother’s antique shop. 

After completing the installation, I create performances and films that activate the space. 

online artist feature, emerging artist
Installation View, 2022 | Wonder Mobile 2021, Wire, acrylic board, vinyl, epoxy, mother of pearl, mirror, key and keyhole, 70H x 20W x 15D inches | The Dreamer Box 2021, Plaster, clay, polyurethane, epoxy, acrylic cylinder, wood panels, acrylic, oil sticks, mother of pearl, rotating stand, 70H x 20 W x 20D inches  | The Clues of My Insomnia part lll 2021, Short Film, 04:13min | The Fourth Wall 2020, Wood panels, oil, oil sticks, resin, glass, wax, 72H x 35W x 23D inches | All photos by Ailyn Lee 

2. Do you remember your first encounter with art? What made you want to be an artist? Was your family supportive? Are there other artists in your family? 

I was born into a family of artists.

My grandfather, grandmother, and aunt are painters, and my mother is a sculptor, so I have been surrounded by the arts my entire life.

When I was about six years old, I would visit my mother's art school in South Korea. 

While my mother worked on her projects, I would sit in her studio and draw birds outside the window, or build small sculptures from paper and clay.

This is one of the happiest memories of my childhood, and my parents still fill their home with the artworks I made back then. 

contemporary art, wonder mobile
Wonder Mobile 2021, Wire, acrylic board, vinyl, epoxy, mother of pearl, mirror, key and keyhole, 70 H x 20 W x 15 D inches | photo by Ailyn Lee 

I believe that growing up surrounded by supportive artists and family members gave me the courage to pursue this career. 

I first came to the U.S. when I was fourteen, and it was very difficult to be separated from my family.

Although I felt overwhelmed by the new culture at school, I began to feel at home in art class.

I loved the sensory experience of the arts: the smell of paint, clay, and wood made me feel comfortable and inspired. 

installation view, exhibition, ailyn lee, art now
Bust Drawer 2022, Clay, acrylic and epoxy, 11 x 14 x 5 inches | Photo by Ailyn Lee 

I decided to pursue my passion, studying at the School of Visual Arts.

I was invigorated by the diverse community of artists, sharing ideas and working across a variety of media.

Sharing and learning with other artists has been one of the most important experiences of my life. 

ailyn lee, artist interview, on view
Backstage Props 2022, Clay, acrylic and epoxy, 11 x 5 x 4 inches | Photo by Ailyn Lee 

3. What does a work day look like? Could you walk us through a day in your studio? 

I usually make art at night: the quiet atmosphere and streetlights glowing outside the window helped me concentrate.

I leave administrative tasks for the daytime, because I find inspiration strikes in the evening. 

featured artist young art to collect, explore
Portrait Studio in New York | Photo credit : Woosik Choi 

My studio is at home, and while this does provide a certain amount of flexibility, I find it is difficult to separate my work from my daily life.

I also find the home studio can be lonely, because I got so accustomed to the communal studio experience while studying for my MFA.

Currently, I am applying for residencies and looking for more opportunities to work with artists and build community. 

ixed media sculpture, unique artworks
The Dreamer Box 2021, Plaster, clay, polyurethane, epoxy, acrylic cylinder, wood panels, acrylic, oil sticks, mother of pearl, rotating stand, 70H x 20 W x 20D inches | Photo by Ailyn Lee 

4. What are the last 5 songs you were listening to whilst painting if you check your playlist? 

I really like old pop and jazz music.

One of my hobbies is going to LP Bars or Jazz Clubs.

These are some songs I have been enjoying recently: 

Peggy Lee – Fever
Doris Day – Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps Frank Sinatra – Fly Me to the Moon Chet Baker – Almost Blue
Gilbert O'Sullivan - Alone Again 

ailyn lee artist studio
Studio in New York | Photo by Ailyn Lee  

5. On your website, you write “I create multimedia art installations and short films that are surreal spaces of comfort and wonder.” Could you tell us a bit more about that? 

In my work process, individual sculptures, films, and paintings come together to create an installation.

It is important to create the right dreamlike and mysterious atmosphere for viewers to experience my projects.

My work is only complete when it is shared with an audience, and the space is activated. 

munchies art club, online art magazine, contemporary art
The Room of Ego-Splitting 2020, interdisciplinary installation, polyester fabric, oil, oil sticks, acrylic, epoxy, plaster, clay, wax, mother of pearl, key, keyhole, polaroid photo, canvas, wooden cabinet, 9.8H x 16W x 9.8D FEET | photo by Ailyn Lee

After completing the installation, I create performances and short films that activate the space.

Each of my work and installation appears in short films and these become the actors, conveying the narrative of my daydream.

Through my practice, I hope to connect with individuals and communities that also suffer from anxiety, insomnia, or isolation.

As an artist who has struggled with these conditions for a long time, I want to create a space that invites healing, comfort and empathy. 

contemporary art on view, interview, contemporary art now
Ailyn Lee | The Fourth Wall 2020, Short film, 01: 54min 

Here you can view the video.

6. If you had one wish open now what would it be? 

I have received a lot of support from friends, communities, and arts organizations.

I would love to someday build an organization that could help other emerging artists, and create opportunities for them to share their work. 

I would also like to thank the Munchies Art Club for this interview– it has been great to share my work with you. 

contemporary art magazine online, article, ailyn lee
Moon Room 2022, Clay, acrylic and epoxy, 11 x 5 x 4 inches photo by Ailyn Lee 

7. Could you tell us a bit more about symbols, antique furniture and accessories that appear in your work? 

Since before I was born, my grandmother ran an antique store.

She imported beautiful objects and furniture from 19th century Britain and France: chandeliers, lamps, wardrobes, chairs, beds, sofas, tables, clocks, keys, and accessories.

Her shop was full of amazing things, and as a child it became my magical playground.

The items and furniture from my grandmother's shop would often migrate to my mother's sculpture studio. 

original and unique artworks
Installation View, 2022 | The Fourth Wall 2020, Wood panels, oil, oil sticks, epoxy, glass, wax, 72H x 35W x 23D inches | photo by Ailyn Lee 

My mom would often inadvertently place her finished sculptures of busts, torsos, hands, and legs atop the furniture.

When combined, the furniture and human body parts seemed to be alive. 

munchies art club spotlight on ailyn lee
The Dreamer Box 2021, Plaster, clay, polyurethane, epoxy, acrylic cylinder, wood panels, acrylic, oil sticks, mother of pearl, rotating stand, 70H x 20W x 20D inches | photo by Ailyn Lee 

A bust resting on a drawer looked as if it might speak.

A table combined with hand and leg sculptures felt like it might begin crawling towards me.

These childhood memories are at once happy, comforting, and mysterious, and have become the material of my daydreams. 

Short CV: 

EDUCATION 

MFA Fine Arts, School of Visual Arts, New York, NY, USA 2022 BFA Illustration, School of Visual Arts, New York, NY, USA 2017 

SELECTED EXHIBITIONS 

“The Green Room, Solo Show Gallery Insaart, Seoul, Republic of Korea 2021 “Distant, Yet Connected” Busan International Art Fair, Busan, Republic of Korea 2020 

SELECTED AWARDS & RESIDENCY 

Wassaic Project Artist Residency, Wassaic, NY USA 2023 Vermont Studio Center Artist Residency, Vermont, USA 2023 SVA Alumni Scholarship Award, New York, USA 2022 SVA MFA Fine Arts Scholarship, New York, USA 2019 SVA BFA Illustration Dean’s List, New York, USA 2017 

Solo Show A.I.R gallery, New York, USA (forthcoming) 2023 “Outro” Group Exhibition, SVA Chelsea Gallery, New York, USA 2022 “My Body / My Choice” Group Exhibition A.I.R gallery, New York, USA 2022 “Misfits” Group Exhibition, SVA Flatiron Gallery, New York, USA 2022 

 

Which keywords describe your work best.

Dreamlike, Surreal, Mysterious, Theatrical, 

Follow the artist on Instagram:


A very big thank you to the wonderful Ailyn for sharing her work and her story with us to share with you!

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