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Check Out Sammy Lee’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sammy Lee.

Sammy Lee (b.1975, Seoul, Korea) is an artist based in Denver, Colorado. Lee was born and raised in Seoul, South Korea, and moved to Southern California at the age of sixteen. Lee studied fine art and media art at UCLA and architecture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her work has been exhibited internationally and can be found in collections at the Getty Research Institute, Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, Spencer Museum of Art, Denver Art Museum, and the Spanish National Library in Madrid and Lee also had a fantastic performative collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma during the Bach project tour in 2018. Lee is recently a resident artist at Redline, serves as an ambassador for Asian Art at Denver Art Museum, and operates a contemporary art project and residency space, called Collective SML | k in Santa Fe Art District, Denver.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
I am an artist, community organizer, entrepreneur, and mother. I have accomplished many of my dreams as an artist – having a studio, being accepted in public collections and commissions, consistent exhibitions record, gallery representation, and being part of notable artist’s residencies in recent years. I also became more active in service and volunteer works once I became a mother. Although I constantly watch schedule and split times, balancing my times in the studio, in the community, and at home, my life has been enriching. Being a mother naturally leads me to nurture and better my community, for the members now and for the next generations. I serve as an “ambassador” of Asian Art at the Denver Art Museum. I operate a Contemporary Asian Art residency and curatorial program that I found in Denver and hosted and collaborated with over 30 artists, curators, and researchers since 2017. This is Colorado’s only artist-run program and project space dedicated to promoting Asian and Asian-American artists.

I also curated several shows recently at local non-profit art centers such as RedLine Contemporary Art Center, Arts Student League of Denver, and Artworks Contemporary Art Center. While my studio time is blissful, I appreciate the insights you feed your creativity by being a mom and serving others’ needs. Before entering the pandemic, I was consumed with an exhibition that I prepared for a long time as a curator and art director. It was a significant undertaking to showcase art, activism, and positive social changes in 12000 square feet of installation space. I completely poured myself out, and I have been desperate to recharge my creative self through focused studio time in a supportive, creative community. Without having an opportunity to refresh as an artist, I lost a significant part of my studio time by having young kids remotely learning from home.

In 2020, I participated and spear-headed some community projects addressing some of our immediate problems, such as the Masks Against Hate Virus and COVID-19-Wall projects. Often, I have a chance to collaborate with my children, and they are very proud of their artist mom. My multi-role as a mom, artist, curator, community organizer – is hugely gratifying, and it continues to evolve and mature me as a member of a creative community in Denver. However, my core identity as an artist is a need that must be reaffirmed, strengthened, and balanced continuously through immersion in my studio time by carrying out new projects.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
In the studio, this is my guide; I arrange chaotic piles of pieces to realize a whole. Whether in installations or hand-made books, my work transforms and re-contextualizes familiar objects into art, reflecting my personal history.  The creative process resembles my experience of (un)conforming to a new homeland; it calls for certain self-renewal while summoning and translating the past. As a first-generation immigrant, I use found objects and memories as material to investigate the sense of home. I keep my hands busy in water – soaking, squeezing, kneading, and pounding layers of papers. Preparing a paper-skin is a laborious and cathartic process; time and effort transform fragile and delicate sheets into a leather-like substrate that is resilient and tough yet luminous. Enveloping objects with my paper-skin creates new three-dimensional artwork with a new context. Typically these works question socio-cultural issues surrounding a sense of belonging, home, foreign body, cross-cultural psychology and immigration.

Do you have recommendations for books, apps, blogs, etc?
Don’t have a favorite – I read and cover many diverse subjects relating to my journey in art-making and life. I definitely need some recommendations on apps that will help me better manage my time.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Shana Thompson

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