Jiyung Lee’s illustrations capture the bare minimum to focus on the essential properties of an object

When the Korean illustrator found her name being mispronounced in a multiplicity of meanings, it sparked an idea for her next project.

23 April 2020

Growing up in Andong, Korea, Jiyung Lee pored over every detail of an illustration, even as a young child. “My mother told me I would take so long to turn the page of a story because I would stare at the illustration until I had processed all the details,” she tells It’s Nice That of these formative years. And even now, as a third year student in Metz, she can still recall the pictures in her favourite childhood books, though the title and author have escaped her. Sometimes, she likes to browse the internet to recover more about the forgotten books, relying solely on the happy memories of the illustrations. Above all, this experience has made her realise something integral to her practice; that her visual memory is stronger than anything else.

“All the information I needed to understand the story was in the illustrations,” Jiyung continues, and so today, in her evocative illustration practice, communication is just as important as the technique. Having majored in painting in her undergraduate degree, now, studying visual communication, she can stretch her muscles in a variety of mediums from printmaking to editorial and graphic design. For now, she enjoys poking around this array of subject matters and is taking the time to experiment these differing means of communication.

What interests her in particular at present however, is the relationship between language and object. “We usually take the connection between the two for granted,” she explains. Objects possess a multiplicity of meanings depending on the understanding of its function for example. On one hand, “they exist in the form of an image, and on the other, the form of language.” To illustrate this concept further, Jiyung references Joseph Kosuth’s 1965 piece One and three chairs, an artwork she comes back to time and time again for its cleverness.


Jiyung Lee

“This work consists of three objects,” says Jiyung. “A chair, a photo of a chair and a photo of the definition of a chair. Through the work, Kosuth questions if these three reproductions indicate the same thing. We often think these three elements are strongly linked. Indeed, language and image have long been used as a substitute for the original object,” the illustrator continues. But the real question at hand is, how accurate is the substitution? Throughout her work, Jiyung questions this relationship between object, image and text. She tries to keep visuals as minimal as possible, not only because “it’s fun to add in as little [she] can” but also to concentrate on the essential properties of the object.

In her fruit and vegetable illustrations Jiyung tentatively adds just a few dabs of colour to make the shapes on a page resemble a fig, or a paprika, or an apple. The concept of the 28-page volume came from a rather personal experience. “Having a Korean name in France,” she tells us, “means that my name can be pronounced in a variety of ways. I don’t blame people for pronouncing it wrong,” she adds. But this experience of being called lots of different names (all slightly mispronounced from its Korean origins) gave her the idea for this work.

In the book, an unnamed thing goes looking for its name. Along the way, it encounters all kinds of different objects with names and wonder whether it, in turn, should also have a name. “Is the name so important to have?” Jiyung ponders through the thoughtful narrative. Can we have more than one name? Do humans label things to communicate more easily, or to talk about a thing they like?

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.

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