Loaded, emotionally laden words. Those are the words that paper artist Bovey Lee uses to describe her almost unbelievably delicate and intricate work. Lee, born in Hong Kong, acquired an MFA in painting and drawing from the University of California at Berkeley, and a second MFA in digital arts from the Pratt Institute in New York, and has been in Pittsburgh since 2000. She and her husband, Joseph Wilcox, live on Allenberry Circle. “Pittsburgh is a very solid town,” she says. “I really appreciate the core values of hard work and honesty I see here.”
Behind the three interrelated themes of power, sacrifice and survival are the factors that drive us to make decisions. “People sacrifice to survive. That’s universal.” Each piece tells a story, reflecting Lee’s concerns for urban and environmental issues, and her life experience. One of the themes she has taken to heart recently is the rapid, massive urbanization of China, brought home to her when she visited two years ago. “The Beijing of 1989 and the Beijing of 2010 are completely different cities,” said Lee. “In mainland China, growth is on steroids.”
This resulted in a 2011 series of works that depicted individual occupations, and the roles they play, the effect they have on the community. Individuals contribute to society way beyond just what they do. “With the economy, the banks, Wall Street, we feel powerless, but society and nations come from what we do, not who we are.” Lee’s works are currently on display in Hong Kong, where she has a solo exhibition at Grotto Fine Art. Earlier this year, she did papercut window installations for 10 Hugo Boss stores across Asia. Closer to home, she will be part of a group show in the fall at Stockton College Art Gallery in Galloway, New Jersey.
Another plus about living here? “Hong Kong is very populated and filled with distractions. Here, there is not a lot of rush and hurry. I can focus on my work.”
The work requires an almost superhuman level of concentration. Typically, she will sketch out an idea and then create a digital template for the papercut. The template can include downloaded images, her own photography, scans from magazines and books, and other images. Once the template is ready, Lee begins cutting the paper with an Exacto knife. Lee hand-cuts each work on Chinese rice paper with silk backing. She has also experimented with Tyvek and vinyl. “I work with Chinese rice paper on silk because both materials are culturally significant and sustainable,” she says.
Lee credits a teacher she had when she was elementary school age with recognizing her talents and nurturing them. He singled her out from the other students in her art class and began teaching her, at the age of 10, the art of Chinese calligraphy. “It’s a very precise form,” she said. “Once the ink hits the paper, there is no going back. You can’t be scared to make a mistake.” Paper art is the same way. Lee describes what she does as “drawing with a knife… This process really suits my personality.”