In Conversation with Hyung Jin (Erika) Lee
"Camouflage" by Hyung Jin (Erika) Lee.
Patterned fabric, acrylic paint.
Interior art for the Canvas Autumn 2019 issue.
Below is discussion between Canvas Editor-in-Chief Lindsay Herko and Autumn 2019 cover artist Hyung Jin (Erika) Lee.
We were really attracted to this image for our autumn cover, as it reminds us of what is hidden in plain sight in the transformations of fall. Humans who have freedom and time, sometimes like to lay supine among the fallen leaves and experience what it's like to be that close to a nature they usually couldn't touch in the same way, if those leaves were still on the trees. It's a collective immersion, that may allow a "cooling into a sense of the earth" or into the natural rhythms of sky and season. It's a vulnerability or surrender posture, allowing humans to become the rare surprise, if someone actually looks down into the leaf pile. Similarly—the immersion of this young woman in this pattern of flowers echoes that element of what can be found in what is shed, or where someone chooses to hide. The flowers have autumnal tones in their color, but because they are flowers they allow the viewer to consider what it’s like to be hidden—instead—in a pattern of something that symbolizes growth. I think that is a unique turn. A lot of times when people lay in a leaf pile, they look up through the leaves at the baldness of the sky rather than at the world parallel to them. I am intrigued here—how this young woman finds herself gazing at her own arms, postured overhead. In one reading, it could look like she is gazing at her own ability to move, in another—it looks like her hands are almost cultivating the way the camouflage moves or comes together. Looking closely, we can see various aspects of this "camouflage" that seems strip-like, also challenging our concept of what is covering her . . . she is not solely (if at all) emerging from a pattern-pile of flowers, but perhaps she is responsible for tying her cover or hiding space together, as the covering resembles paper or fabric strips. The viewer can't entirely know. But I think it is epic, we are allowed to linger in so many questions. We often think of camouflage as the protection-drive activity or adaptation of animals, OR slated toward the “historic masculine” when we think of army history before the integration of women. So what does it mean for a young woman here, to choose to be hidden partially in plain sight?
Are there things about this woman you know as her creator, that the audience would not? Do you find yourself ever coming up with backstories behind the figures in your art? How often is your art about a micro-moment of human experience?
‘Camouflage’ is a commentary on the saying, women should be seen and not heard. I’ve been told this again and again by older relatives, but also implicitly by a culture that encourages women to be submissive and well-behaved. Why do women apologize when disagreeing with men? Why do the girls in my class politely raise their hands while the boys shout out answers? You shouldn’t be too loud, society tells the woman in the picture. She is not to say things that will make her seem aggressive or disagreeable. So the woman hides herself behind the standard of what nice girls should do. I always come up with backstories behind the people I depict in my art. Often, I am depicting myself through these figures.
What would you say the creation story of this piece was? Did the concept come first or the image? What is your generative process like when it comes to creating things?
I created this piece upon realizing how I have ironically grown to match the mold of a non-aggressive, well-behaved female. By matching this mold, I feel as though I am abiding by that saying, which I hated hearing so much as a child. This disturbs me, thinking about how much of my personality was influenced by society. Often, the concept comes first, but for this piece, I had an image of a girl retreating into a wall, almost becoming a part of it. When I have an image like this in my head, I start sketching like a madman, to get everything down on paper before I forget. Once I have the skeleton of the piece ready, then I just start creating, and let the process determine the direction of my work.
Do you have any advice to other teens who are looking to express themselves as artists?
Modesty is one thing, but self-deprecation is another. Often, when you say things like “my work is terrible” or “I’m really not good at this," you slowly start to believe it. This is actually a habit of mine that I am still trying to fix, and I see a lot of my friends doing it as well. Don’t degrade your ability as an artist. Show pride, and people will start to see your work differently.
Often, when you say things like “my work is terrible” or “I’m really not good at this," you slowly start to believe it. This is actually a habit of mine that I am still trying to fix, and I see a lot of my friends doing it as well. Don’t degrade your ability as an artist. Show pride, and people will start to see your work differently.
Hyung Jin (Erika) Lee is a senior at the Hun School of Princeton in New Jersey. Her work was recognized at the national level through the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, awarded first place at the FAA High School Competition, and published in various publications such as the Balloon Lit, CrashTest, and Celebrating Art. The way that fine art can capture a fragment of time like no other medium inspires her and drives her to continue painting and drawing.
Artist Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/erikalee_art/
Personal art website: