Sharon Lee brings Korean folk art into American homes

June 12, 2015
Sharon Lee and one of her most popular designs from Krane Wallpaper, “Peonies” in Lilac.

Sharon Lee and one of her most popular designs from Krane Wallpaper, “Peonies” in Lilac.

By Brian Han

With numerous aspects of Korean culture making waves around the globe, the timing seems perfect for Sharon Lee to capitalize on her deep bond with Korean folk art.

As an artist, Lee has found a way to revitalize an awareness for the often overlooked yet rich history of the genre.

“In a sense, what I’m trying to do is to popularize Korean folk art,” she said. “I grew up surrounded by it and it became such an important tool towards self-exploration and discovery. I want to share that experience with the rest of the world.”

Lilies, cranes, tigers. These are some of the motifs found in her work that immediately jump out at audiences.

In tandem with bold colors and meticulous attention to detail, she’s come up with a unique style that is traditional at its core, but relevant in a modern context.

 

“Migration,” 2014 by Sharon Lee Gouache, Tempera, Acrylic, Block Printing Ink, 24k Gold Leaf, White Gold Leaf, and hand poured Resin on Wood Panel

“Migration,” 2014 by Sharon Lee
Gouache, Tempera, Acrylic, Block Printing Ink, 24k Gold Leaf, White Gold Leaf, and hand poured Resin on Wood Panel

And though she is first and foremost an artist, she’s also acutely aware of the commercial side of things.

She founded Krane (derived from a combination of Korean and crane), a business that designs and sells handmade wallpapers that are showcased all around the U.S.

“That’s the goal,” she said. “It’s about striking that balance between creating something that is deeply meaningful, but that can also sell. It’s all really exciting to me.”

It’s not always easy to achieve that ideal in a predominantly digital age through a medium that’s been around for centuries. But Lee is aware of the trends and addresses these concerns in her approach.

“There seems to be a much shorter attention span these days so you have about two seconds to capture someone’s attention,” she said. “That’s where all these seductive qualities I instill in my work plays a role. The gold leaf, the marbling, the resin, these are tools to grab the audience and tell them, ‘Now that I have your attention I want to introduce to you the beauty and history of Korean folk art.”

The artist in her Santa Monica, CA studio putting the finishing touches on “Lotus Reflection,” 2014 Gouache, Tempera, Acrylic, Block Printing Ink, 24k Gold Leaf, 12k White Gold Leaf, and Resin on Clay-Coated Wood Panel

Sharon in her Santa Monica, Calif. studio putting the finishing touches on “Lotus Reflection.” 2014
Gouache, Tempera, Acrylic, Block Printing Ink, 24k Gold Leaf, 12k White Gold Leaf, and Resin on Clay-Coated Wood Panel

Her penchant for creativity happens to run in the family. Her grandfather was an artist, her sister Greta Lee is an actress (New Girl) and her mother was a concert pianist who also happens to be an accredited Korean folk painter.

In an increasingly progressive America, immigrant families are also evolving and Lee’s family is an example of that.

“Being artistic was encouraged in our family,” she said. “But there was always that foundation of developing a good work ethic. The bottom line is that my parents definitely appreciate hard work from their kids.”

That doesn’t mean that there weren’t any attempts to steer her towards something more practical.

“I remember when I went to UCLA art school, my dad called me my junior year and said, ‘It’s not too late to switch into premed,” she said while laughing.

Besides her upbringing she points to one other experience in her life that has played a significant role in shaping her success so far.

Lee refined her taste during the time she worked for Michael Smith — a highly regarded interior designer who also redecorated the residential quarters of the White House for President Barack Obama and his family.

“All my training was honed there,” she recalled. “It was the most jam-packed knowledge-absorbing time of my life. It trained my eye and I left knowing what designers want and what it takes to be successful.”

Even so she always made time for her own projects.

“I’ve always had this kind-of-crazy, hyper-focused attitude,” she said. “While I was working, I was still constantly sketching, painting, developing concepts in my head.”

And now all those ideas are coming to life through Krane.

 

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