As the world’s environment and natural resources continue to rapidly diminish, Lee Gil Rae constructs enormous forests of copper to capture the beauty and intricacy of trees in permanence. His most recent gallery, Pine Tree, contains a surreal, leafless forest that one can meander through, with spiraling branches that appear organic and lures viewers to follow the curves and notches of aged tree bark. The branches fan out, tipped with wisps of copper that represent the needles of the pine trees. With rapid deforestation, Lee’s trees are a symbol of the artificial, man-made nature that cities have constructed to emulate natural landscapes, even as natural environments are removed to make room for the ever expanding population.
Lee compares the working process of connecting copper pipe to adding touches of brush strokes to Oriental paintings. The molding process is symbolic as trees which are strong and full of vitality are broken down into their fundamental shapes and natural states. The copper pipe materials resemble the texture of tree bark, and his sculptures transform the physical properties of plant life into modern, mechanical forms.
“My concept for the Tree Series is to depict trees at their strongest and fullest vitality. It can be said that the shape of trees as natural objects expands one's vision of nature and an Oriental mise-en-scene is created through the laborious and intensive weaving process,” he explains.
Lee graduated from Kyunghee University in Korea after studying in the department of art education, and obtained his Masters in the discipline of sculpture, and has been crafting sculptures from steel and copper pipe for 20 years. His other artistic subjects have included abandoned castles, archaeological excavations, creation, and cohesion. He has participated in several exhibitions in Korea, America, and Japan and been featured in numerous permanent collections.
All images via Lee Gil Rae.