American Artists of Asian Heritage

In this week’s blog, we celebrate three permanent collection artists: Jiyong Lee, Arthur Towata, and Cheonae Kim.  

JIYONG LEE, South Korea (b.1971), Cube Segmentation, 2014, Cut and carved glass, color laminated, Museum purchase with funds provided by the Cedarhurst Collectors Club, 2015.01

Jiyong Lee on the metaphors in his art: “The segmentation series is inspired by my fascination with the science of the cell, its division and journey of growth that starts from a single cell and goes through a million divisions to become a life.”  

“The segmented, geometrical forms of my work represent cells, embryos, biological and molecular structures—each symbolizing the building blocks of life as well as the starting point of life.”  

Segmentation means movement as the cube represents, for Jiyong Lee, the biologic cell, or the singular point of unfolding.  

ARTHUR TOWATA, Japanese-American, Los Angeles, CA (b.1933) – Barrington, IL (d. 2019), Lived in Alton, IL for over 65 years.  Untitled, 1984, Stoneware, Museum purchase, 1985.2.01

After Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, Arthur Towata, as an eight-year old, was imprisoned with his mother and younger brother during World War II in the Manzanar internment camp California.  His father was detained by the Department of Justice and never heard from again.  

“Through the guidance of an intuitive mother, I was protected from the negative reality of our situation. I was instructed to entertain myself through the exploration of our new environment. She did not entrap me within an emotionally negative circumstance, but invited me to glean from it another opportunity to learn.”

Towata became a veteran after serving in the Korean War. After the war, he earned his Bachelors of Science in Economics in 1962, and his MFA in 1971 from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. He served as Chairman of the Art Department of Monticello College.  In 1964, Towata opened his Fine Art Gallery in Alton, IL.  He is a founding member of Craft Alliance, St. Louis. 

In 2006, Towata returned to Manzanar.  Manzanar is in a California desert composed of a yellow-orange sand.  

“Kate had to place one of my pots on the ground within the former camp and point out how it immediately blended with the natural landscape.”  Towata is known for his signature vessels which for years represented the same desert landscape of his childhood.  

CHEONAE KIM, Seoul, Korea (b.1952), Fugue 1, 2, 3, 4, 1992, Acrylic, graphite on canvas, Gift of the artist 

Cheonae Kim explores in her paintings the idea of language systems, or structures, their relations to sound, and their visual expressions.  

Kim works with the concept of structuralism which embraces the idea that the totality of a structure works in relationships to its parts and the parts come to have their meanings and significance only within the structure, or system.  

Kim strives to reach all cultures—she uses the universal languages of color, line, patterns, and structures.  

Fugue” took as its model the Korean alphabet.  These paintings present in four different models, the ways a system composed of signs can visually change, or morph over time.  

Kim seeks the simplest of elements, or parts to explore.  Here, she uses the horizontal line and the vertical line.  The cultural symbolisms attached to these two aspects, the horizontal (inactive) and the vertical (active) are metaphors of life.  

Kim suggests a way to read these four paintings with her title. A fugue is a song where the melody is modified with each new countermelody.