SF Bay Area

Inspired by Light

Fine art alumna Lena Lee’s “Light in the Darkness” places second in California Watercolor Association exhibition

By Nina Tabios

This past May, Academy of Art University alumna Lena Lee recently took second place at “Luminous”, a member-only exhibition hosted by the California Watercolor Association at the Village Theatre Art Gallery in Danville, California.
Her submission, “Light in the Darkness” shows a fallen lamp illuminating a bed of
leaves in an orange glow. The painting looks like a scene out of a children’s
picture book, whimsical and mysterious. Per judge Sue Johnston’s prize note, Lee achieved “a beautiful balance of foreground and background,” which earned Johnston’s vote.

“[I] chose your painting because I was fascinated,” read Johnston’s message. “It’s so beautiful. The light is just amazing and the darks are so rich.”

[Since] this is my second entry into a call-for-artists by the CWA, I am still in awe,” wrote Lee, a 2017 School of Fine Art—Painting B.F.A. graduate, in an email. “I real-ly never expected winning a prize! It was already an honor to have my painting shown next to work created by amazing artists.”

Lee was born in South Korea and came to California in 2011. She’d been painting since she was a little girl—“My parents joked that I would grab a brush or a crayon rather than a fork or a spoon,” she mentioned—and attended Seoul’s prominent arts high school, Sunhwa Arts School. After graduation, Lee looked to San Francisco: a beautiful and inspiring city, she said, and the place where she could learn from established artists at the Academy.

“My teachers at the Academy encouraged me and gave me advice about painting and life,” Lee said. “They shared their experiences of their personal art journeys and they were dependable advisors and role models to me, especially my watercolor teacher Camille.”

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Lena Lee at the “Luminous” exhibition in Village Theatre Art Gallery in Danville, California. Photo courtesy of Lena Lee.

Camille LaPointe-Lyons was an instructor in both of the fine art and illustration departments when Lee was a student. She remembers Lee as “one of those people that worked a lot.” Lee was self-motivated and eager to learn, asked a lot of questions and was always willing to try different things. LaPointe-Lyons would take Lee and her class-mates on field trips to photo-graph on location; other times, she’d bring in a model and teach her students about composition.

Lena was excited to learn more ideas,” LaPointe-Lyons added. “She liked exploring her imagination and interests, what she could do to stand out.”

And that’s what made “Light in the Darkness” shine in the CWA competition: “I have always been fascinated by how light creates different colors and how patterns are represented through nature, different envi-ronments or subjects around us,” Lee explained, regarding the painting’s inspiration. “I think the scene really shows all the fun details of leaves, colors, lights, and the intersection of those
[ideas] that I like.”

“When [artists] think about the theme, a lot of them want to think about people or landscape. Lena took it further,” LaPointe-Lyons said. “She thought of something more dramatic and interesting. The strong contrast in value, it really grabs your eye.”

When asked about advice for current students, Lee’s response was simple: “Paint! Paint more. Paint, paint, paint,” she wrote.

“Whenever I find incredible patterns or beautiful lightings hidden in everyday, busy life, it is pure joy,” Lee said. “I love the challenges of moving these beautiful scenes onto paper with watercolor. These challenges are also my pleasures.”

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