The Sweet, Sweet Taste of Happiness

Yeseul Lee’s paintings are hard to look at without your mouth watering. Buttery popcorn, fizzling pop, delicious donuts and creamy smooth milk are painted in realistic clarity, causing your stomach to rumble in anticipation.

But there’s a bigger aspect to her baccalaureate project than just food.

“I think my original purpose was to share Christianity in a more playful way, in new ways,” Lee said. “I wanted to approach in a more playful way and a broader audience where non-Christians could like the paintings and would feel attracted to the paintings … I don’t want to neglect any audience through my paintings. And food, I feel like a lot of people can relate to. I was like, ‘I’ll just use food and let’s see how this goes.’”

Lee’s project included four massive oil paintings, each featuring a model (her roommate) with food — ranging from milk to popcorn — erupting from her head. Taking inspiration from contemporary and pop art, Lee worked diligently to explain her experience with Christianity to her audience.

It’s hard to believe this was not Lee’s first project.

“It was supposed to be like a semester-long project, but when I had my second to the last critiques with my professors, I realized I didn’t really like the project that I was working on,” she said. “So, I changed my project last minute. All of these paintings were done within two weeks. It was a lot of painting in two weeks!”

Her original project was connected to her first-semester project. Graduating visual arts students are expected to complete two semesters of baccalaureate classes.

In her first project, Lee was working on converting people’s testimonies about their faith and God into paintings. She had nearly finished her five paintings when she realized she wanted to take a different approach to her original idea.

The inspiration for the project came from an unusual place.

“I really, really like drinking pop,” Lee said, laughing. “My roommate and I always talk about it. One time, she was driving home and I was like, ‘I really want Sprite.’ We were just imagining when you open a pop can and you make that noise like kshhhh. We were just imagining it and it was making us so happy. And so, I was like, that would be a really cool way to describe what joy feels like. That’s where I started.”

She decided to experiment and see if she could connect her spiritual experience and feelings about God to food in painting. Lee composed the images of her roommate and food in Photoshop before expanding to the canvas.

“Really, I think food was our first language for everyone,” she explained. “You taste it, you feel it, you remember those tastes and when you taste something, you remember where you were and who you were with and all those emotions. I tend to use food in my paintings a lot because it has been my first language. And people, they have to eat.”

Despite only having two weeks to finish the project, Lee is very satisfied with the final project and hopes to continue with the style and direction as she continues her art career.

After graduation, Lee will continue at NDSU as a graduate student in education. She hasn’t decided where she wants to teach (whether kindergarten through senior high school or college), but she’s excited to continue to learn about understanding people and their backgrounds.

Lee doesn’t plan on adding to the original four photos, but she wants to continue to use food as subjects in her artwork.

“Even though it’s an ending project, our final project as seniors, I think it’s a good start for me,” she explained. “Where, ‘Oh, yeah, this is the direction I would like to explore more as I’m graduating and trying to be an independent artist.’  And so, as like my professors pushed me to think outside of the box, I think I am going in that direction but I want to push myself more.”

But in the present, Lee just hopes that people continue to enjoy her paintings.

“I hope that (the audience will) be able to connect to the feelings that I was putting into my paintings,” she said. “Whether that was astonishment toward God or this constant joy that I have or peace and satisfaction that I’ve experienced through my spiritual experience. I would hope to communicate that to my audience. They could simply just see the paintings and like them, too. That’s my hope: that they like the paintings.”

Lee’s paintings are currently on display in the Memorial Union Gallery as part of the 2017 Spring Baccalaureate Exhibition. Her work, in addition to six other art students’ works, will be on display until April 27.

To see more of Lee’s work, visit her website, yeslovelee.wixsite.com/mysite.

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