The Korean artist Joyce Lee remembers spending childhood time with a babysitter who would draw a different picture for her and her brother every day. Watching her draw the outlines and fill in the shapes with colours as a piece came to life, the siblings spent hours copying the designs and making up their own. While her brother decided to go to art school, Joyce ended up studying English language and literature at university, and then worked for an airline for several years. But she continued to paint in her time off. ‘I began to feel my interest and passion for art rise up inside me again quite strongly,’ she says. ‘I finally quit my job and went to art school.’
Having trained as an artist, she quickly started to explore the relationship between the outer material world and the inner universe of her fertile imagination. Using predominantly watercolours and coloured pencils, her art juxtaposes everyday objects with the extraordinary, exploring sex, desire and the forbidden. Her paintings are full of visual innuendo – a woman lying among peaches, a ripened banana facing skywards, bees crawling over nipples – which flit between being arousing and quietly discomforting.
Despite looking backwards for inspiration, Joyce’s own work is very much of the present. Her paintings are filled with ‘Easter eggs’. ‘I want people to find something unexpected when they look more and more into my painting,’ she says. ‘The familiar objects make it easy for the audience to understand the story and feel comfortable. You can see a lot of beautiful women with elegant looks drawn in a traditional way in my works,’ she continues, ‘but they’re badass women in what they do!’
Early in 2023 Baron Books will publish Joyce Lee’s debut book, dedicated to the artist’s body of work exploring aspects of love, sex and sexuality. For Joyce, her first print book is an affirming moment – coming full circle since she originally took the plunge to quit her job and enrol in art school. ‘Sometimes I was confused about whether I was a real professional artist or just a lucky influencer on social media,’ she says. ‘I’ve always thought social networks would not last forever, which means my work in the online world would vanish as well. To have my own physical book is very meaningful.’