Looking at the works of South Korean artist Soru Lee you're immediately immersed in a sense of calm and serenity. Through her delicate and layered pieces, she aims to capture the intimate relationship between nature and the human psyche.
After discovering her work and falling in love with it as a judge on our recent Open Call panel, Claudia Del Omo (The Founder of Casa Balandra), invited Soru to take up a place on her residency. Soru jumped at the opportunity. This was the perfect place for her to get immersed in her surroundings, observe the world around her, and make meaningful relationships to last a lifetime.
In December she made her way to the Mallorcan light-flooded retreat where she found much more than she could have hoped for; healing and growth. Here, Soru guides us through her experiences at the creative home and how her gratitude and appreciation of nature, community, and spirituality impacted the creation of her latest collection ‘Mornings’.
Talk us through a normal day at Casa Balandra.
I used to walk all day across the verging field and along the forest path in Mallorca. I watched a flock of birds fly as they made their journey together. I could hear the chirping sound of birds clearly. On a December morning, while I drew my 'Mornings' series I could see the shadow of a small bird rising behind the mist through the window.
At a quite slow pace, I drew and wrote my journal by day and into the evening. And I walked on, over the shoulder of sunset and down across the fields and woods while dogs were softly starting to bark to the silent night. I was relieved when I got back. I made a beautiful fire and relaxed by it. My father sent me a Spanish quote: "Time looks down on something that you put your heart into with tender respect". I wrote it down too. I have never slept well like this. I'm learning to see this place. There's always something.
Casa Balandra has a very strong sense of community, focusing on the artist and creatives' relationships - how has living and working surrounded by other creatives influenced your work?
I think Casa Balandra is a place to enter one person's life. I learned how to be a companion. On our open studio day at Casa Balandra, my painting fell from the wall. I remember one friend ran towards it to hang it up for me. I remember us all lying down around the bonfire under the white fire of stars and listening to songs.
I also remember when I had a conversation with one friend. He said simple things, but they changed my world. I asked, "What makes people's heartbeat? How do you know when you love someone?" He said, "You will know when you know". The one thing I know is that these wonderful days with them are an unbreakable circle that will remain in my heart.
I believe that if I am open enough, I can connect with people. Little by little, my heart opened. My stay at Casa Balandra taught me how to love people again. It was everything that I needed when I needed everything.
Your work focuses on nature and light, how have the Mediterranean surroundings of Mallorca influenced this latest collection?
One morning, I encountered the moment of seeing the shadow of a small bird rising from the tree behind the mist through the window. The morning light touched my soul as it came all the way through me. It gave off such hints of gladness which made me feel gratitude for everything around me. I learned to see an invisible power within the silence of light. These healing moments taught me that the power is within me just like the natural world. I was standing still.
I wrote - "Every morning brings a sense of relief, like sleeping tenderly after safely returning home. The home is where the heart is. Beyond the horizon, the silently glowing sunrise slowly illuminates the world, bathing every petal in gold."
I later brought this image onto a canvas to remember, revisit, and stretch its lives.
Talk us through the creative process behind these pieces.
In the process of creating my artwork, I have spent several seasons walking around the woods with warm curiosity toward every living creature in the world. The wildflowers and willow trees movement made me think of what their prayers are. My collections communicate the beauty of the surroundings that I find and learn in the world rooted in nature.
I prefer to sketch in colour pencils before transferring my artwork and ideas to other mediums. And then I apply pastels on top and rub them to create the image based on my feeling, sight, and memory.
What have been some stand-out moments at Casa Balandra?
I shared a story about my grandma's funeral with friends at Casa Balandra. During the funeral, raindrops fell from the clear blue sky. A whisper in the wind reassured me of my grandmother's presence and a humid downpour of rain enveloped my body in a warm hug. Since that moment the rain always reminds me of my grandma, and it feels like she is with me.
The day we had an open studio at Casa Balandra, it began to rain. Kezia said, "It's your grandma." I stood there and listened to the raindrops. I felt that the landscape surrounding me was alive. This perceptual experience allows me to see an invisible world.
"What could possibly be indifferent to us?" - Some endless questions are hard to answer, but the more I get closer, the more I can see. I love to devote my time to understanding the world. It allows me to see the beauty and mystery of the world. Maybe understanding is the beginning of love.
What learnings will you take with you from this experience?
While staying at Casa Balandra, I experienced heartwarming and healing encounters that will stay with me for a long time. I was fortunate to meet them and the experience was more than enough for me. It was a blessing. I hope for beautiful and delightful encounters may visit people with an invitation to explore.
When a slowly growing sunrise silently illuminates the world, my heart remembers the warmth of my grandmother’s earnest prayers. For her, the morning hours of prayer were tender and dedicated to those around her. In these moments, she would let go of all expectations in full acceptance of the world. She embodied kindness and was always there for me without prerequisites. When she passed away last October 2021, it was my first experience losing someone I truly loved. I was sitting on the window sill. The dark house drowned in silence. The sky began to dim; the sun went down slowly.
After her death, I felt as if I did not belong, aimlessly wandering around in silence. I had an innate longing to establish a place in the world without her. One summer’s day, I walked across the fields wet with rain. I could feel the elements talking to me with every step; Grandmother’s presence and a humid downpour of rain enveloped my body in a warm hug. The grass danced, and light flooded the fields. One voice spoke to me about my belonging in this world and birthed a new awareness of my existence. The wind, the sun, the earth, and her. My life goes by in the blink of an eye, yet nature endures. I know she returned to the ground, and one day I will follow; I know that I know nothing. When I follow, what will I leave behind?
Maybe the only thing that will remain of my passage is that I can write and draw, low and slow. Hopefully, the breathing words and images will help people to end up loving people and other creatures that surround us in our beautiful earth. Every morning, I feel like the world renews, and the morning light touches my soul, traveling through me as it does through a window, a gentle reminder to feel grateful for everything around me. These delightful and meaningful encounters are passed on to me when I need them during hard times. Morning always arrives whether I ask for it or not; reliable and firm, the light descends upon me like my grandmother’s reassuring tenderness.
Sun goes down, slowly. Relief washed through me, and I felt at peace.