UH Hilo art alumna bursts onto international scene

South Korean artist and author Hyunjoo Lee’s central mission is to inspire children to find their dreams. “This is because I think that many problems in the world will be solved naturally if children are happy.”

Artist is seated in front of a wall of drawings and paintings.
Visual artist Hyunjoo Lee with a display of her artwork. (Courtesy photo)

By Evangeline Lemieux.

Poster with title The Universe Says You are Special, Hyunjoolee 1st Exhibition. Painting of lake and mountains.
Poster for Hyunjoo Lee’s recent art exhibition, “The Universe Says You Are Special,” which premiered in March with a month-long show in Seoul.

An alumna from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo’s art program is now showing her work internationally.

South Korean visual artist and children’s books author Hyunjoo “Amy” Lee studied at UH Hilo through the student exchange program, graduating in 2007 with a bachelor of arts in art.

Lee’s recent art exhibition, “The Universe Says You Are Special,” premiered in March with a month-long show in Seoul. She was chosen as the featured artist out of over 100 applicants. At the time of the exhibit, she had completed 83 pieces of artwork and five children’s books.

The gallery exhibited 31 of Lee’s drawings and paintings, far more than the five works on the first floor that they originally intended to exhibit. Lee says the full showing was able to proceed entirely as she intended. Her above-and-beyond approach to the application process is inspiring, and shows the value of committing oneself fully to a project.

“I was able to have my first individual exhibition due to my earnestness and attitude,” she says.

She also taught a one-day art class during the exhibition.

People making paintings around a large table.
Hyunjoo Lee taught a one-day art class during the March exhibition in Seoul. (Courtesy photo)
Students show off their one-day art class works
Hyunjoo Lee (center front) with the students from her one-day art class, which she taught in March during the exhibition of her works in Seoul. (Courtesy photo)

“The Universe Says You Are Special” is a thematically cohesive collection of work featuring bright rainbow colors and the theme of inner light.

At top is a painting of a baby sleeping (hanging on the wall), at the bottom is a table displaying the author's books.
Hyunjoo Lee’s work on display at the Gallerie Tchaïkovski in Nice, France, in August. At top is Lee’s artwork, on the table is a display of her children’s books. (Courtesy photo, click to enlarge)

“Everyone is born with their own light, and while living in the world, they seem to face many moments when the light is covered and covered by other people’s eyes and environments,” says Lee.

“I wanted to tell everyone that we had light and give them a moment to find it. We want to shine our own light, not as a comparison with others, and not as a social role as a mother or father.”

This theme is evident in many of Lee’s works, which exude brightness and joy through their vivid colors, technicolor landscapes, and focus on the beauty of living things.

After the exhibit in Seoul, Lee set her sights on showing her work overseas. She sent queries to more than 240 galleries in France.

“I wanted to feel the heart of Monet, Picasso, and Matisse, who were traveling and painting,” she says.

As with the Seoul exhibit application, Lee gave her all to the process, receiving responses from several French galleries, from which she chose a gallery in Nice on the French Riviera. That gallery included several of Lee’s paintings as part of their exhibition called “Couleurs du Monde” (“Colors of the World”) held in August at the Gallerie Tchaïkovski.

People are gathered at a gallery
Artist and children’s book author Hyunjoo Lee speaks to someone viewing her work (on the wall behind the artist) at the Gallerie Tchaïkovski in Nice, France. In the foreground, visitors leaf through one of Lee’s children’s books, which features her art. (Courtesy photo)

Lee credits her time at UH Hilo with helping her to find her artistic self.

Professor with two students, one holding an envelope.
At right is art student Hyunjoo Lee with UH Hilo Professor of Art Michael Marshall and an unidentified student at the 2007 Student Convocation on campus. (Courtesy photo)

“The painting and drawing classes I did with Professor Michael Marshall were the first moments when I expressed my thoughts in pictures, not a test to enter art school,” she says. “It brought me back to my childhood when I purely liked painting and that memory helped me a lot to find my dream.”

Lee hopes to do a showing in Hawai‘i in the near future.

“In Hawai‘i, which inspired me a lot, I really want to draw pictures and exhibit them at Hilo campus,” she says. “I want to show my children and husband beautiful Hilo.”

Lee says the happiness of children is central to her mission as an artist. She has authored several delightful children’s books that feature her artwork.

“My goal is to have a lot of events that will especially help children find their dreams,” she says. “This is because I think that many problems in the world will be solved naturally if children are happy.”

Classroom of about 20 children at tables, painting with watercolors.
In June, Hyunjoo Lee (at back of classroom) held a painting workshop for children in her homeland of Seoul, South Korea. The artist says her goal is to have many events that will help children find their dreams. (Courtesy photo)

Story by Evangeline Lemieux, who is double majoring in English and medical anthropology at UH Hilo.