Il Lee’s Large Ballpoint Pen Drawings Harness a Powerful Quiet

Calm and frenzy lay down together in the remarkable little show of big work New Vision: Ballpoint Drawings by Il Lee at the Crow Collection through September 26. Lee makes huge abstract drawings by scribbling with a ballpoint pen until paper or canvas is coated with shiny blue-purple or black ink. Hyperactive scribbles fade to a stolid calm of opacity in all of the large works here, creating amorphous shapes that seem to move, or grow, more suitably, from out of some void off the page. These drawings create the kind of claustrophobia that comes when considering infinite space: a gasp-worthy, confounding feeling of being consumed by an empty frontier.

Il Lee, Untitled 978 I, 1997, Ballpoint pen on paper (Courtesy of Art Projects International, New York)

In fact, Lee’s drawings render a kind of undeniable geography. The first piece a visitor encounters in the gallery is a tremendous (BL-095, 87 x 144 inches) drawing on raw canvas that shows a wide mountain shape. At the bottom of the canvas, the ink markings amass in square-like shapes, gradually coalescing into a solid mass of perfectly blue, uninterrupted ink that forms a line so stark and clear on the canvas that the whole shape seems created, not made. In another, Untitled 9781, three columnar shapes rise up like trunks into a sea of scribbles, each column touching the other’s solid black back with fuzzy scribble static. Untitled 801 feels like a sea swarm of waves gathering in on something out of frame. A spirographic encroachment.

A wall of the gallery is also filled from floor to ceiling with Il Lee’s smaller drawings. These show more earthly abstractions: mountains, a smoking volcano, hints of forests, swarms of flying creatures, but also celestial configurations: myriad starry skies, deep whirls of energy and cosmic chaos.

It’s rare to encounter work that has harnessed so much power, through such effort, so quietly.

Il Lee, IW101, 2010, Acrylic, oil stick, and stylus on canvas (Courtesy of Art Projects International, New York)

Main image: Il Lee, BL-095, 2008, ballpoint pen on canvas (Courtesy of Art Projects International, New York).


  • Lee certainly is doing some great ballpoint pen artworks to say the least! Ballpoint Pen Art International has 5,700 drawings by 800 plus artists, 153 videos and lots of related information for your enjoyment. Fellow artist, Jerry Stith

  • Mark Johnson

    Il Lee’s exhibition at Crow is fantastic. I also see he had a retro spectate at San Jose Museum of Art is was great with large works on canvas. Extra points for such an unusual medium to make wonderful work

  • susan b.
  • Philippe DM
  • Suzanne

    Nice review. I saw the IL LEE works at the Met Museum in NYC and a New York gallery The paintings at the met are much like last piece in your article but HUGE and filled with energy but very calming at a distance.