Timothy H. Lee at work in his studio. Image courtesy of the artist.

We are happy to launch the first feature in our Alumni Story series. Every month we will highlight a Scholastic Art & Writing Awards alumnus who continues to approach their work and day-to-day life with the creative passion that was recognized when they first received their Scholastic Awards.

Timothy H. Lee received his Scholastic Awards in 2006 and 2008, and later received Educator Awards for his work with art students in the New York City area. A Korean-born New York-raised artist, Timothy studied Neuroscience, Drawing and Biology when he attended Wesleyan University. After graduating with high honors, he decided to postpone his medical ambitions in favor of becoming a full-time studio artist, and an Art.Write.Now.POP UP resident.

We could tell you all about Timothy’s beautiful watercolor pieces and the hypnotic process involved in the intricate cutouts that adorn his pieces, but we’ll let him tell you all about it instead!

Scholastic Art & Writing Awards: You have had a very busy year since you were creating works in the Scholastic Store window! What types of projects have you been working on recently?

Timothy H. Lee: For the past two years, I’ve been working predominantly with watercolor on paper. I love watercolor, moreso than any other paint medium, because of its volatile nature. You can’t master watercolor; rather, you have to learn to relinquish control. Understanding watercolor is to understand your pigment’s interaction with its solvent, and the solution’s interaction with its surface. This entire process is studded with variables that can completely change the end result of your painting: namely, the humidity and temperature of the environment. I love that unpredictability, since so much of my working process is about control and being “tight.” More recently than ever, I’ve been working progressively larger – my most recent watercolor painting is about 9 feet long. I want the sheer scale of the works to completely inundate the viewer’s field of vision and immerse them in my own world – much akin to the works of Rothko and other Color Field Painters.

As I continue to develop as an artist, I also find myself interested in working three-dimensionally – I’ve explored paper not only as a surface, but also a material to work with. Reflecting back on the trajectory of my practice, and the types of works I have made, I think my next step is to apply what I’ve done on paper to ceramics – porcelain, to be more specific. Not only is it a natural progression (paper and porcelain both have a beautiful, white surface to work upon) of my artistry, but ceramics has always been an important craft in East Asian cultures, including Korea.

“296.61: Mania Edition” (2013). Watercolor on cut and folded paper by Timothy H. Lee

“296.61: Mania Edition” (2013). Watercolor on cut and folded paper by Timothy H. Lee

SAWA: It has been fun to follow your work as it has been touring the world. Where have exhibition opportunities taken you? Where do you plan to go next?

TL: Oh geeze, this year has been pretty unbelievable for my art – I’m so grateful and humbled by the positive responses that people have shown towards my work! I’ve been on an international spree – earlier this year I went to Dubai to attend an exhibition of my works, which was sponsored by an International Emerging Artist Award that I received. I’ve participated in group shows in Korea, Morocco, the UK, and even at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. And just recently, I presented a solo exhibition of my works at Sabrina Amrani Gallery (Madrid, Spain), which now represents me as an artist. Next year, the gallery will present my works in Singapore at ART STAGE SINGAPORE (the preeminent contemporary art fair of Southeast Asia) and again in Madrid at ARCOmadrid (another major European art fair).

So…. yea, it’s been a wild, wild ride. If you were to tell me that I would travel with my works to this extent last year, I would laugh it off. But’s it’s happening, and I’m very excited to see what the future has in store. It’s definitely a lot of pressure, but I’m glad I have the support of my friends and family.

SAWA: What artists inspire and influence your current work?

TL: There are so many artists that I’m constantly inspired and influenced are. There are some artists whose influence on my works are more apparent, such as Yayoi Kusama, Ronit Baranga, and Jenny Saville. But there are so many other amazing and talented artists, both past and present, who have in some way affected my vision of what art was, is, and could be. Wassily Kandinsky, Cy Twombly, John Baldessari, Richard Serra, Cai Guo-Qiang, the Abstract Expressionists…etc. If you’re curious to see what I’m inspired by, look up #arha101 on instagram – I upload works, almost on a daily basis, that I love.

SAWA: Has your vision for your future changed since you received your Scholastic Award? If so, how?

TL: The Scholastic Awards was critical in my development as an artist – it was a reminder that the work I was making was important and worth pursuing. It gave me confidence in being creative, and a put a voice to my vision.

SAWA: What are your long-term goals as an artist?

TL: Eventually I’d love to teach, though I’m not sure if I’d want to teach at an academic institution. I’m sure you know, many academic institutions have shown their true face recently as being morally bankrupt, more worried about their face value than the protection and care of its own students. I can’t be a part of that anymore.

Ideally, I’d love to open my own school – a studio school that runs on a mutual interest in cultivating artist-scholars. I hate art schools that charge exorbitant fees or tuition; education should be free and available to everyone. It’ll be like a collective – a gathering of my closest friends who are curators, other artists, gallerists, art critics, film makers, screen writers…etc. who all share a passion for learning and teaching.

SAWA: What advice can you offer to young artists and writers?

TL: Don’t give up. It seems like a cliche statement, but you’d be surprised at how many people stop pursuing art and writing because “it’s too hard.” You guys are cultural ambassadors, speaking the universal language that is art. Use your talents to break down barriers through creation, especially during these testing times for America.

View more of Timothy’s work HERE, and follow him on Instagram and Twitter at @timmyhlee.


“Composition III” (2014). Watercolor on aquarelle arches by Timothy H. Lee

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