Minhwa is a colorful style of painting that was popular during the Joseon Dynasty (1392- 1910) in Korea. It was an everyday art that was widely enjoyed by the common people. The objects depicted in minwha symbolize wishes for well-being, such as good luck, health, wealth, and love.

Stephanie S. Lee reinterprets the traditional Korean Folk Art (Minhwa) by connecting it with a modern perspective. She believes the essence of life is searching for happiness and striving to benefit all humanity simultaneously. By portraying precious contemporary objects in a traditional Korean setting, Lee depicts hope and happiness transcending its appearance, time, and era.

In the Tiger series, Lee paints the tiger and magpie, the most well-known motif of Korean folk art, to depict the human desire to pursue happiness and share good wishes with others. In Korean culture, magpie birds are messengers to bring good news, and tigers are protective animals that ward off evil spirits. In conjunction with these two animals, evergreen pine trees often appeared, representing the New Year. These paintings were displayed in numerous houses for the coming of the New Year to distance their households from misfortunes while receiving good luck expected to come forth. Lee places these traditional elements in a modern setting and often combines them with diamonds, a symbol of pure goodness that overcame hardships.

In Munjado (Pictorial Ideographs) Series, Lee combines Korean and English letter forms instead of Chinese characters with images such as traditional animals, diamonds (a symbol of pure goodness that overcame hardships), or Ouroboros (the symbol of eternal destruction and reincarnation). This series depicts her journey to finding happiness and hope while going through repetitive everyday life as a mother, wife, and middle-aged female artist.

In Chakegeori (Books and Things) Series, Lee places modern luxury products in traditional bookshelves or still-life settings. She paints precious contemporary objects instead of books as a symbol of the everlasting human desire to search for happiness. By doing that, she suggests viewers see what’s beyond its appearance. Lee wants people to be aware that we genuinely wish for the well-being of ourselves and others, not luxury goods. By painting this fundamental philosophy through materialistic substance and letting the viewer see them as it travels through history and modern times, Lee finds hope for the future.

Stephanie S. Lee's artistry breathes new life into the traditional Korean concept of Shibijisin which encompasses time, cardinal directions, and plays a role in safeguarding human happiness and well-being. Her Twelve Animals series showcases a captivating collection of 12 animals, including the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig, symbolizing individuals' birth years and embodying various facets of human existence. Combining elements of contemporary symbolism such as diamonds and the Ouroboros, the artist conveys the message that we all possess the spirit of warriors and guardians who endure the repetitive routines and challenges of life, akin to the unyielding strength of diamonds.

In the East in West series, Lee juxtaposes the modern New York scene with traditonal eastern Asian elements. By doing that, Lee wants the audience to see there is an unchanging essence that transcends time, place, era, and culture. Lee wishes happiness and blessing through her work, just as the ancestors wished well for others while exchanging their paintings.

"I have always been fond of the bright colors and positive energy of minwha and been impressed by the fact that these paintings were created and shared over the course of many wars. Despite the hardships they were facing, the people of Korea kept a positive attitude and continued seeking hope and happiness through art.

I believe the essence of life is seeking one’s happiness and striving to benefit all mankind at the same time. Thus, a human being’s life journey is an interaction between this essential desire with its environment. While the objects and their appearance may have changed over time, one’s immortal passions and desires of well-being have never withered. People in modern days often seem to confuse the pursuit of happiness with materialistic desire, but I think what we truly seek is the happiness of us and others. When we realize that, our lives can be more meaningful and appreciative.

Diamonds represent pure goodness in my work. They are the result of carbon atoms being placed under conditions of extreme pressure and heat. Instead of being destroyed, the carbon became something beautiful and strong that reflects light that shines on others. Thus, diamonds can symbolize the positive human spirit that overcomes life’s hardships and obstacles. This was the same quality I found and valued in minhwa.

By integrating Korean tradition with New York life, traditional and contemporary, East and West, material and ideal all coexist in my work with embedded good wishes. As our ancestors did, I wish happiness to you and your loved ones through my paintings."


Stephanie S. Lee (김소연) 작가는 한국전통민화의 상징성, 대칭성, 장식성을 응용하여 한지, 석채,분채, 먹 등의 전통재료를 이용해 현대와 과거를 넘나드는 작업을 한다.

어려운 시대상황을 달관한 밝은 그림으로 서로에게 삶의 희망을 전하고자했던 선조들의 정신에 감동한 작가는 한국의 전통민화를 현대의 모습과 비교, 재해석 함으로서 전통과의 연결상실을 회복해 보고자 함과 동시에 시대를 초월한 인류의 공통된 염원인 '행복의 추구'와 그 너머 철학적 의미를 찾고자 한다.

작품속의 현대물들은 인간의 욕망을 현상적으로 보여주고있지만, 물질주의를 비판하는것이 아닌, 그 근본에 있는 선한 마음을 깨닫고 이해하는 통로가 되는 매개체로서의 역할을 상징한다. 작가는 과거와 현재, 전통과 트렌드, 한국에서의 정서를 기반으로 뉴욕에서 살아가는 삶을 그리며 모습은 다르지만 그 속에 흐르는 근원적이고 긍정적인 삶에대한 욕망을 통해 순환, 윤회, 조화, 공존 등의 철학적 의미를 찾고자 한다.

열과 압력을 견뎌 더 단단하고 반짝이며 주위에 빛과 아름다움을 전하는 다이아몬드는 작가의 작품에서 선한 마음의 결정체를 상징한다. 전쟁과 가난에 굴하지 않고 긍정적으로 타인에게 희망을 빌어주었던 민화에 담긴 선조들의 정신과 닮은점이 많다고 생각해 작가의 그림에 자주 등장한다.

다 함께 잘 살기를 바랬던 소망과 염원을 일상 가까운곳에서 그림으로 나누던 선조들의 따뜻한 마음처럼 작가도 그림을 통해 긍정적인 에너지를 전하고자 한다.