Interview with Maia Ruth Lee

Maia Ruth Lee is an artist based out of New York City. Currently showing a series of ink paintings and sculptural glyphs at Eli Ping Frances Perkins, so we made a point of stopping by the studio to talk about her latest works before the show closing on February 7th. Welcomed by a warm smile and clementines, she gave some insight into her process, and the influence that linguistics and her upbringing play in her artwork.


Photos and Interview by Mauricio Vargas

Hey Maia how’s your winter going? Are you a fan of the cold weather? 

Hey Mauricio, i’m not really a fan of the cold, but i don’t really mind it either. The change of seasons make it exciting – after this, spring is going to be awesome. 


On the topic of cold, Tell me about the heat blanket painting you did a while back. What initiated that piece? 

I had a dream that I visited my friend’s studio. She showed me a zine made of heat sensitive paper. The colors of the pages changed as you touched them. In my dream I thought it was such cool idea and bummed I hadn’t thought of it before. I woke up and was stoked it was a dream and looked up any and all materials that were heat sensitive. I found there was heat sensitive fabric so decided to use that as my material. The electric blanket was one of many options I had come up with, that would affect the heat sensitive fabric to change its color. 


When did you realize you wanted to be an artist? Who were your inspirations growing up? 

I didn’t know that an artist could be an actual career until very recently. I didn’t believe it was possible to self sustain or thought it was hard to stay self-motivated to keep making things on your own. I think it was only in the past couple years I really accepted this to be something I wanted to do. I was inspired mostly by where I grew up in, Nepal. 


Tell me about your series of luggage bags on your website. What’s the significance behind these? 

Bondage baggage is a series of photographs I took at the Kathmandu airport. Nepalis have a very specific way in packaging their bags when coming back into the country. I always saw it growing up but really noticed it in the recent years while visiting my parents. I see them as beautiful sculptures, sort of lost inbetween space and time, whilst carrying an elegant but rough appearance.


You were born and raised in Korea correct? How often do you go home? Do you have any traditions or rituals when you do go back for a visit? Are you often inspired by your home?

I was born in Korea but raised in Nepal. I lived there for 14 years. Then returned to Seoul for my undergraduate studies. 


You mentioned being part of an art program in Korea prior to making your move to America? Tell me about that. 

It wasn’t really an art program, I was part of an artist collective that published books and exhibited artifacts we created. I learned how to collaborate with other individuals, and it was really an amazing experience. I think that kind of opportunity comes once in a lifetime. Where you can fully trust and engage with the others involved, uninhibited, creating freely. 


How did you start getting into the exploration of glyphs in your art? What significance do glyphs play in your life outside of your art?

Glyphs, language, alphabets, lexicon is something I grew up with too I guess. My parents are bible translators and technically linguists. Their work involved developing a new alphabet for an oral language (Sherpa) and worked in literacy improvement. 


Would you say your a spiritual person?

I would say i’m spiritual yes.


So you currently have a show up at Eli Ping Frances Perkins gallery, tell me about it. How did you go about finding and choosing the specific motifs you rendered. Why ink?

It took a long time to choose the materials I work with now, a lot of trials and errors and I’m still trying to finesse it even more. Ink is a fun medium for me because it is predictable. It can be painted on precise and accurately and I can control it. 


You also did a series of zodiac sculptures/symbols. Do you follow the stars? What led you to pair these with the paintings?

Horoscopes, signs and symbols have always intrigued me. It’s interesting how it intrigues a lot of people. I like spiritual charts and even if they are spoofy I like them because they are always good natured, fun and optimistic. 


What do the stars say about your future/ 2016? Got any big plans?

It’s hard to figure out what the next month or week will be like, it’s really hard to tell but I’m also very used to going with the flow and tackling one by one. 


Ok shotgun round….

Favorite cartoon?

We didn’t have any cartoons growing up.. but I really enjoy watching SouthPark or anything ridiculous like that.


Daily ritual?

Breakfast with Peter / Shower / Studio / Dinner with friends or Peter


Favorite song at karaoke?

Don’t have one! karaoke gives me anxiety so I can’t remember the last time i went to one


Best memory of 2015?

Surfing in Montauk


Sweet or salty?



Innie or outie?



Clinton or Sanders?




Ants or bees?




Indica or sativa?



Great! Thanks Maia, much love.

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