Sharon Lee at home with one
of her new wallpaper designs,
â€œChrysanthemumâ€ in French gray.
Lee at work on a
After cutting her teeth working for White House interior decorator Michael S. Smith, artist/designer Sharon Lee opted to strike out on her own last year and hasn’t looked back. A Los Angeles native, Lee, 29, turned to her Korean American roots to craft a line of contemporary art—and new home goods—based on elements found in her culture’s folk art, oddly underrepresented in the realm of pan-Asian-inspired works. We caught up with the innovative talent at her home studio in West LA to talk about her new hand-screened wallpaper collection, being a Korean American artist, and what her future in the design world holds.
How did your interest in fine art develop? SHARON LEE: I have been an artist all my life and have explored every medium under the sun—drawing, painting, photography, sculpture, and ceramics, along with set, costume, jewelry, and interior design. At UCLA School of the Arts I studied with Catherine Opie, under whom I created Dollhouse, a series of large-scale conceptual photographs exploring Asian stereotypes.
What was it like working as a designer for Michael Smith? SL: It was an incredible experience where I gained a first-rate design education. I was exposed to many innovative designers and artists. When I had the idea to create a wallpaper line based on my artwork and go out on my own, the company was very supportive.
How did creating the new line give you a fresh take on Korean folk art? SL: My mother is an accredited Korean folk art painter, so I took classes in min hwa [folk art] to learn the traditional techniques, which I then infused with my contemporized process based on the subject matter repetition and pictographic symbolism commonly found in folk art.
Tell us about your new line of wallpaper at Harbinger. SL: Everything you find in my wallpaper has an aspect found in my paintings and vice versa, so they really inform each other nicely. I created a number of paintings and picked the top five designs [to create my wallpaper line]. Each style has multiple colorways, and there are a total of 19 wallpapers in the collection. My meeting with Joe Lucas [co-owner of Harbinger] was my very first, and last, because before he even finished looking through all my samples he said, “Welcome to Harbinger.”
Since Los Angeles is home to the largest Korean community outside of Korea, how has this influenced you? SL: Growing up in LA as a Korean American gives you a strong sense of identity. It’s a tight-knit and extremely supportive community. My first solo exhibition in 2012 was at the Korean Education Center in Los Angeles, and they were very receptive. I can see Korean forms and subject matter taking root in the interior design world, and hopefully my designs will play a large part in that!
What’s next for you? SL: I’m having a solo painting exhibit in a Larchmont Lofts space this month, and my next venture is fabrics to complement the wallpaper. Eventually I’d love to do a full home décor line based on my artwork.