Stephanie S. Lee’s “Ouroboros” at the Flushing Town Hall

by Jonathan Goodman

Stephanie S. Lee, Beautiful Lady Smile & 아름다운 아가씨 웃어요, 2020, Color pigment and ink on linen, 25 1⁄4" H x 17" W x 1 1⁄2" D each
Stephanie S. Lee, Beautiful Lady Smile & 아름다운 아가씨 웃어요, 2020, Color pigment and ink on linen, 25 1⁄4″ H x 17″ W x 1 1⁄2″ D each

“Ouroboros,” the solo show by Korean-born, New York-based artist Stephanie S. Lee, can best be described as an amalgam of influences. The Ouroboros, an image of a snake swallowing its own tail, dates back to ancient Egyptian and Greek mythologies. It symbolizes eternity and is wholly associated with Western culture. At the same time, Lee regularly uses the minhwa, or folk art, associated with presenting traditional Korean narratives, wishing and sharing good fortune and well-being among commoners in everyday life. In such work, traditional animals – tigers, dragons, and magpies – appear in the midst of modern New York City. Lee, a highly active resident in her community, to the point of having her own gallery called The Garage Art Center ( (her garage transformed into a showing space!), shows artists from around the city. Besides curatorial, design, and teaching Korean folk art, she paints regularly and considers herself an active artist. This show, very nicely installed within the spacious Town Hall gallery, indicates Lee’s sense of received form and an ongoing belief in doing good things, as demonstrated in her involvement with other artists and the community.

In this show, Lee combines Korean and English letter forms 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. A good deal of the work in this show consists of diptychs with Korean characters, usually expressing Confucian terminology in one painting, which is then accompanied by a second, often spelling out the meaning of the Korean language in English. Other works of art include characters depicted on black diamond-shaped faux leather canvases or hanging scrolls. In her wish to merge imagery, textual references, and a nearly palpable sense of moral integrity, Lee is pursuing a language that owes its depth to Korean thought despite having lived in New York City for two decades.

Ouroboros, Solo exhibition of Stephanie S. Lee, 2022, Flushing Town Hall, Flushing, New York
Ouroboros, Solo exhibition of Stephanie S. Lee, 2022, Flushing Town Hall, Flushing, New York

Korean life in New York City, both in Manhattan and the outer boroughs (especially Queens), often determinedly remains Korean. Yet, inevitably, the city’s social structure and international culture makes its impact on all foreign cultures, no matter how insulated its immigrant inhabitants may wish to be. Certainly, this does not describe Lee’s own outlook. Instead, she embraces the diversity of New York City, even as she relies on the suggestion, sometimes overt and sometimes not, of Confucianism and Christianity for an approach to life and art. Lee studied graphic design for her BFA in Brooklyn and Museum Studies for her MS in Manhattan at Pratt Institute and learned folk art painting at Busan National University. Her work in school is reflected in her art; her paintings are exquisitely designed and are usually rendered in the naive style of the folk art she follows. In her ‘Munjado’ (Pictorial Ideograph) series, English alphabet and the Korean lettering is beautifully expressed, being indicative of the calligraphy of both culture she experienced.

Given that her art, inspired by folk tradition, reintroduces a historical Korean tradition, Lee’s work travels a long distance, both geographically and culturally. But Lee’s message is hardly antiquated; her work shows a very good sense of contemporary design and thought. On one wall, facing the viewer walking into the show, three pieces occur: in the middle, we see a large hanging scroll created in 2022. Its twisting, vertical shape establishes the symbol of infinity, with its mouth grasping its tail near the top of the hanging canvas. There are the words “useless” and “unproductive” in Korean on each snake, representing unanswered questions to herself on why she keeps creating artwork despite hardships. The symbol’s center is an open sphere created by the curves of two thin, interwoven Ouroboros, held together in the middle by a horizontal circle. On either side is a black diamond, serving as a background for single words. On the left, we see the neon-lit word “Value” in a script, and on the right, we come across the word “Art,” also in neon and written in script. When Lee presents the word “Value” on the left work, she clearly intends for the word to be understood in a non- commercial sense. (But Americans, accustomed to the economic worth of things, may take the term differently.) Her use of the word “Art” is universally understood in a moment. As for the Ouroboros, the snake symbolizes infinite possibility–from a Western point of view.

Stephanie S. Lee, Ajumma & Mother, 2022, Natural mineral color pigment and ink on linen, 46 1⁄2" H x 24 1⁄8" W x 1 1⁄2" D each
Stephanie S. Lee, Ajumma & Mother, 2022, Natural mineral color pigment and ink on linen, 46 1⁄2″ H x 24 1⁄8″ W x 1 1⁄2″ D each

Lee is giving the nod to different traditions as she works. It can be asked if the incorporation of Western mythology with the Asian folk imagination is a bit awkward; my own feeling is that, in the case of the work discussed in this show, Lee’s strong skills in design allow her to make use of the different cultures. She incorporates the imagery that is familiar to her into a vocabulary of her own making. The piece called Ajumma (2022) of the Korean characters

meaning ajumma, which in English can be understood as a married or a middle- aged woman. In Ajumma, Korean writing is intertwined with a snake made out of gems, while on the periphery of the image, several peonies, in dark or light blue, ornament the composition. In the painting Mother (2022), the word “mother” is presented in capitals and is less difficult to see. On either side of the English word, two white snakes, vines circling their bodies, mirror each other’s curves to form the shape of a uterus. On the lower half of the snakes’ bodies, luxury jewelry in reds resembling the color of blood is hanging, while at the top, a crown of brown thorns is also decorated with them. Religion is strongly followed within Korean life, and the artist agrees with both Christian and Confucian thought.

Stephanie S. Lee, Traditional Wish, 2015, Natural mineral color pigment and ink on Hanji, 48" H x 36" W x 2" D
Stephanie S. Lee, Traditional Wish, 2015, Natural mineral color pigment and ink on Hanji, 48″ H x 36″ W x 2″ D

Animals like tigers take up Lee’s imagination, as the artist remains devoted to the minhwa style and themes she admires. They represent strength and power and are perceived in a supernatural fashion as a guardian spirits. It is exceedingly hard to take a folk art theme and contemporize it in a way that does not do damage to the subject’s original implications. Sadly, we are living in a time when human overpopulation and subsequent development of natural lands are depriving wild animals of their habitat. But the large cats remain large in Lee’s imagination, often standing for human virtues that remain as guides to bravery or even a heroic stance. In the tigers I have seen portrayed by Lee, their fierce vigor is softened to some extent by the artist’s affectionate presentation. This does not mean that Lee is giving up on the tiger’s reputation for ferocity, only that within the folk tradition she is following, the animal is usually represented as less wild and friendly. So Lee’s representation is gentle and humorous rather than fierce. In her tiger paintings, she may be closest to the Korean imagination.

Stephanie S. Lee, Traditional Virtue - Filial Piety, Fraternity, Fidelity, Reliance, Propriety, Righteousness, Integrity, Conscience, 2019, Natural mineral color pigment and ink on linen, 33 1⁄2" H x 12 1⁄2" W x 1 1⁄2" D each
Stephanie S. Lee, Traditional Virtue – Filial Piety, Fraternity, Fidelity, Reliance, Propriety, Righteousness, Integrity, Conscience, 2019, Natural mineral color pigment and ink on linen33 1⁄2″ H x 12 1⁄2″ W x 1 1⁄2″ D each

There is a question implied by this show: Can Lee’s audience, either Korean or non-Korean, be able to effectively appreciate the painter’s merger of cultures? Can a crown of thorns coexist effectively with a folk rendition of a Korean tiger? Is the Ouroboros an image dispersed widely enough that it would make sense to Lee’s Asian followers? These questions might come close to taking over the real achievement of the art. Yet Lee’s visual skills, her adept use of both Korean and English words to complicate her message (in a useful way), and her unspoken insistence on principles provide her with the means to surpass the difficulties of a hybrid existence. In the poster announcing the show, the words “Mother, Wife, and Artist” are prominent, indicating the several roles someone in her position plays. Here the language is not politicized; rather, it is descriptive of a modern woman’s life. “Ouroboros” is of high interest not only because Lee merges influences but because she has dedicated herself to image-making despite the pressures of her daily activities. It is a good thing she pays so much attention to her art, which rewards its viewers with both visual elegance and honorable consideration.

Hans Neleman: Ripped

by D. Dominick Lombardi

The Artist in his studio.
The Artist in his studio

Ripped, a solo exhibition of the works of Hans Neleman, reaffirms the truth that the destructive-creative process of collage is much like graffiti, in that it gains strength from its boldness to change a preexisting thing, space or expression no matter how powerful or benign. By using the outer edges of 1940’s illustrations of art left as remnants from past works, Neleman reveals the limits of those thoughts and visions, where the conscious and subconscious intertwine, while his process symbolizes spontaneity and an obsession with the tactile. As a result, he creates a place where structures fade, memories leave indelible marks and time begins to become one endless moment. Through his art, Neleman challenges us to experience and rethink the far reaches of what we perceive so we may move past the periphery of our experiences, where the edges that once defined the picture plane become an arresting rhythmic geometric accent. 

Neleman wishes us to expand our thoughts as a challenge to our preconceived limitations of fact and expression. He creates compositions where the fringes of the past become the focus of the present, and in so doing, remakes the past as a contemporary expression, making it fresh and new and ready to breathe again. His works feature thoughts and ideas as contrasting visualizations, not just in dark and light, but in the mechanical and the organic. For instance, in Humanity (2022), we first see extreme shifts in dark and light, what Neleman refers to as “how we live together separately in opposing states, always in flux and being ripped apart by politics, war, disease. Only to be “glued” back together by time”. This overall approach to collage in Humanity forms subtle tonal changes, prompting the viewer to look more deeply, possibly seeing fleeting forms that come and go like one might observe in an adjacent apartment or office building. If that experience occurs, one could conclude that the numerous sections seen here represent individual souls, living life largely apart from others who exist just a few feet away, and where Neleman sees an opportunity for those same individuals to find community built upon common ground.  

Humanity, 2022, paper collage on canvas, 46 x 66 x 1 3/4 inches
Humanity, 2022, paper collage on canvas, 46 x 66 x 1 3/4 inches

In all of the art of Neleman, we experience a visual effectiveness of each field of assembled paper fragments that are in constant flux, which in a way parodies life itself. His process has a distinctive tempo, a particular pulse to the emerging narratives that encompass many fields he has directly experienced – photography, music video, painting, assemblage – all melding into a universal language that crosses socio-political boundaries, and spans a unique depth and breadth of the human senses. The vibrant, albethey nuanced narratives, convey vague familiarities, creating fleeting references that are buoyed by a network of shapes and forms that imply movement, perspective, change and reasoning. It is as if the second we think we see something it immediately disappears, only to return again in an endless loop of fragmented truths. 

Instant Poetry II, 2022,  paper collage on canvas, 66 x 77 x 1 3/4 Inches
Instant Poetry II, 2022,  paper collage on canvas, 66 x 77 x 1 3/4 Inches

As mentioned earlier, the paper Neleman uses to create his mixed media paintings come from old books, which adds a direct correlation to the past, albeit a subtle one, since the paper used to print books several decades ago will darken over time. Since the paper is no longer stark white, it both softens and supports Neleman’s desire to simultaneously embrace and displace time. Also in Instant Poetry II (2022), the artist reconstructs a collective memory; not to simply resurrect the past, but to retrofit the old through a contemporary lens that seeks balance, purity and universality. Overall, the composition of Instant Poetry II creates a very subtle vortex which draws the viewer’s attention toward the center, which appears to be receding. As it happens, that pull creates depth, while a general feeling of another dimension comes to the fore in this and all of Neleman’s works. In the end, we are left with compositions that straddle time, engaging the viewer as we look to the future. when our differences will be embraced and celebrated. 

Ripped opens on October 12th and runs through November 15th at the Jean Jacobs Gallery, 84 Main Street, New Canaan, CT. The Opening Reception Saturday October 15,  6.30 – 9.00 pm.

René Moncada: RENE’SENSE

by Anne Leith

© René Moncada, Black Hole, weaving painting, 44” x 58”
© René Moncada, Black Hole, weaving painting, 44” x 58”

René Moncada’s exhibition at the Jane St. Art Center beautifully presents some of his best-known artworks. These include videos of his performance art, such as: footage and images of his series I AM THE BEST ARTIST René murals; his ecological performances since 1972 in Venezuela educating the public of the dangers of contaminating the environment; the sculptures of knotted string woven on live models which he identifies as living sculptures; and fascinating sculptures created with Styrofoam and found objects. Much of his work is controversial and still provokes outcry from a wide range of critics. One such work presents a female figure entitled “Miss Construed.” 

© René Moncada, Miss Construed, 2021-2022, 54” x 32”

René arrived in NYC in the early 1970s, where he began a lifelong relationship with his wife Joanne. With her help he focused on his art and was on his way, exploring and experimenting with challenging ideas and materials. 

One such work is I AM THE BEST ARTIST René, a huge street mural painted on a 50’ long wall at street level in Soho from the 1970s – 1990s. This was not a static piece. It was tagged over repeatedly by other artists and then repainted over and over by him, a constantly evolving artwork, a constant performance piece. Jane St. Art Center has on display videos and photos of him working on this wall, a fascinating look at an artist in action, engaging with his peers (often hostile to his unabashed declaration of self-worth). 

© René Moncada, Anti-Cristo, 2021-2022, 38” x 28” x 24”
© René Moncada, Anti-Cristo, 2021-2022, 38” x 28” x 24”

While this remains his signature work, another major theme in his art is his philosophy which claims that women are Nature’s Paragon, which he explains by saying “There is nothing more powerful than that upon which every woman sits; this is indeed the seat of power.” The female vulva and labia are the foundational concept to express his world view and his struggle against censorship in art.  

The essence of his work is his respect for, and love of women, and female sexual images are everywhere: discovered in a Mott’s Apple Juice label (later changed by the company!); in beautifully carved wood bas-relief; in his signature drawings of the goddess/woman in flowing labia robes; and in natural shapes like caves. These elegant drawings of forms emerging in space have a delicacy and sensitivity that deny any outside criticism of vulgarity. His daily practice of making these drawings create a quintessential record of how ‘woman as muse’ is central to his art. He has self-named these vulvic forms ‘Renés’. Perhaps unexpectedly, once you have ‘explored’ his way of seeing it is hard not to think of them as a ‘René’.

The performative aspect of René’s work is central to his practice. In one performance series, he knots haute couture string dresses on women’s nude bodies, turning them into elegant living sculptures. The photo documentation of the performance then becomes its own work of art, equally challenging and stimulating.

© René Moncada, 18 Bronzed Mental Flaws Floss, 36” x 28” x 36”
© René Moncada, 18 Bronzed Mental Flaws Floss, 36” x 28” x 36”

Moncada’s use of found materials goes back to the 1970s. The string used in his body art and the plastics and metals in his sculpture are all recycled materials.  Rock forms made from Styrofoam, a material that has become an ecological dilemma, are hand painted naturalistically and heaped in massive piles or tied in found plastic chains, painted to resemble metal. He also creates ’high art’ sculptures using these ‘low art’ materials, painted to resemble bronze and rock with a dazzling deceptive reality. The rocks resemble the natural formations treasured by the Chinese people called Scholar or Spiritual Rocks, adding another level of interest. 

© René Moncada, Marble Mental Flaws Floss, 2021-2022, 26” x 34”
© René Moncada, Marble Mental Flaws Floss, 2021-2022, 26” x 34”

Perhaps his finest work though is his life story, as seen told in video interviews.  For example, he was brought to the United States in 1964 to play baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals. In NYC he worked as an art director and illustrator for ‘gentlemen’s’ magazines.  In his own unique and highly entertaining way he tells of the women he has met and loved throughout his life and the art that ensued. His sense of humor and his unabashed passion for women’s rights and their essential power shines throughout his work.

Also available at the Jane St. Art Center are the following books:


Now Not Seen…. Ford Crull

by Jen Williams Dragon

Ford Crull’s paintings are known for their symbology, gestural forms and kaleidoscopic spaces.  Originally from Seattle, Crull emerged in the Lower East Side in the early ‘80s and has continued to exude the rugged spirit of that explosive cultural  era in New York City.  In his latest solo exhibition, Many Rivers to Cross, recently at the Happy Hour Gallery, Crull embraces an abstract musicality in artworks that have been, for the most part, painted during the Pandemic.

Now Not Seen....© Ford Crull 2021, oil, oil stick, enamel on canvas, 36" x 48" inches
Now Not Seen….© Ford Crull 2021, oil, oil stick, enamel on canvas, 36″ x 48″ inches

Along with his embrace of prismatic colors and profound lights and darks, Ford Crull presents a quiet spiritualism that has only deepened with time. Hearts dissolve into faces, crosses become clovers and stars, butterflies merge with hearts, and stars melt into astral light. Incomplete asemic phrases, as random as a thought but as profound as an incantation float in and out of the painting straddling both form and meaning.  In Now Not Seen a flock of hearts flutters into a blue field while the words “Now Not Seen” float brokenly down about them. 

Many Rivers to Cross © Ford Crull 2019, oil paint, enamel, oil stick on canvas 62 × 72 × 1 1_2 in
Many Rivers to Cross © Ford Crull 2019, oil paint, enamel, oil stick on canvas 62 × 72 × 1 1_2 in

The largest of the paintings, (and the namesake of the show), Many Rivers to Cross has the epic proportions and drama of a  true romantic painting as it emanates a glowing musicality. The shimmering golden light through the brushwork of a burning red field has a power and hopefulness as fierce as a bonfire creating the ultimate transformation. It is the ecstasy of space and being, the power of light and dark, and the passage of day to night that is the paradoxical twilight/dawn world of Ford Crull. 

Some works from Many Rivers to Cross are curated into the current group exhibition, The Living Water, through September 15 at the Happy Hour Gallery  670 Mtk Hwy, Water Mill. NY 11976

Melinda Stickney-Gibson and Gary Gissler’s “Onirica” at Castello Spaces in Venice, Italy

by Jen Williams Dragon

CONVERSATIONS series #4  © Melinda Stickney-Gibson 2022, beeswax, oil on paper,  6x4 inches
CONVERSATIONS series #4 © Melinda Stickney-Gibson 2022, beeswax, oil on paper, 6×4 inches

Onirica, an Italian adjective that translates as “dream-like” in English, is the uniting concept of the work of two New York-based artists: Melinda Stickney-Gibson and Gary Gissler. The delicate drawings of Stickney-Gibson are sensitive meditations on the texture of memory as fine lines and forms flicker through layered shadows of consciousness. A tall installation Place for Being, made of layers of thin paper flow down from the ceiling and across the gallery floor in a glowing waterfall of honey-colored vellum. Nostalgic photos are hidden among the folds as well as brief diaristic phrases and hand drawn shapes. As a visual poet, Ms. Stickney-Gibson incorporates written words as suggestive notations, while her brittle paper layers and delicate forms echo the trembling edges of nature. 

f*** that © Gary Gissler graphite on board
f*** that © Gary Gissler graphite on board
Gary Gissler installation at Castello Spaces Gallery | photo credit: Katia Bakunina 2022
Gary Gissler installation at Castello Spaces Gallery | photo credit: Katia Bakunina 2022
Visitors examining Gary Gissler's artwork with a magnifying glass
Visitors examining Gary Gissler’s artwork with a magnifying glass

Gary Gissler’s obsessively microscopic drawings on prepared panels invite close examination with a magnifying glass helpfully provided by the gallery. Profane phrases such as f**k this or f**k that repeat in a meditative repetitive cycle that creates undulating patterns from seemingly asemic writing. This preoccupation with words as symbols representing meaning as well as the actual words created by the literal marks and forms themselves balances representation with abstraction and meaning with aimlessness. Gissler is a master of the power of scale as he compels the viewer to experience themselves reduced in size in order to study the words, and repeat them one-by-one to themselves as they experience the minute and infinitely divisible as mantra. 

As in dreams, both artists convey the poetry of symbol and substance at once rational and random, nevertheless relaying a tale of archetypal mythic power for which these artists serve as oracles.

Melinda Stickney-Gibson Installation View

Onirica, a two-person exhibition of paintings and drawings by Melinda Stickney-Gibson and small works by Gary Gissler, runs through 28 August, 2022 at Castello Spaces located at Fondamenta San Giuseppe, Castello 780, Venice, Italy.