Exhibitionists·In Residence

This artist draws monsters that represent fear, loneliness and feeling like an outsider

They might be big and fluffy, but these creatures are about more than looking cute. Take a look at the monster art of Toronto illustrator Hyein Lee.

They might be big and fluffy, but these creatures are about more than looking cute

A scene from Hyein Lee's "Twinkling Stars Above." (www.hyeinlee.com)

Don't call these monsters cute.

Call them Hyein Lee's.

Lee is a Toronto-based illustrator, and as this week's Exhibitionist in Residence, we'll be airing her short film, "Twinkling Stars Above" on Sunday.

An animated companion to her 2012 video game of the same name, the story is a "cold tale of death and revenge" —one starring a little girl and her only friend in the world, an abominable snowman.

When I draw monsters I feel like they're part of me.- Hyein Lee, artist

When her fluffy BFF is killed — squashed by a UFO in his prime — she sets out on an arctic quest to avenge his death. Revenge, after all, is a dish best served cold.

To see how it all turns out, you have to play the game (which you can download for free through Lee's website). But like a lot of her work, the story features a giant fuzzy monster and some giant fuzzy feelings.

When she started work on "Twinkling Stars Above," Lee says she was feeling lonely — one of the common hazards of her job.

"I'm not lonely anymore," she laughs, "but I'd been living by myself for quite a while. Sometimes as an illustrator, as a freelancer, you find yourself alone all day every day, and you don't get to talk to people a lot."

"I was single at the time, too, and that lonely feeling — that became the theme of all my artwork."

Her In Bruges series is probably her most recognizable. Previously exhibited at La Gaité Lyrique in Paris, and winner of a 2011 Courvoisier Collective Award, the series illustrates the melancholy of travelling alone — feeling like a clumsy outsider and scarfing Belgian frites for solace.

Says Lee: "I like drawing Wendigo a lot. And it's a Canadian monster!" (www.hyeinlee.com)

Monsters are everywhere in Lee's work, whether she's making wood collages, animation, illustrations or life-size wearable Krampus masks. And whether she's drawing a Wendigo or something of her own creation, they're meant to be slightly silly takes on whatever she's feeling.

"When I draw monsters I feel like they're part of me," says Lee, 36. Born in Korea, Lee came to Canada as a teenager, and when she was a kid, nothing was off limits when it came to movies and books. "My parents had no filter on what to show me," she explains. "When I was seven, my mom took me to Aliens. That gave me so many nightmares."

"I was so scared all the time from reading things or watching things. As I grew up, that all played a part in my work," she says. "If I make them friendly" — the monsters, that is — "and add some personality, they don't seem so scary anymore."

Usually, she says, her creatures are lonely or frustrated critters. ("I'm laughing at myself," she says, not dwelling on it.)

But again, just so you're not judging them by their bubblegum pink fur or their sweet little bunny faces, Lee lays it down: "My monsters are not just cute."

"By juxtaposing emotions, I feel like they have a little more depth."

Check out some of Lee's illustrations.

In Bruges. Hyein Lee. (www.hyeinlee.com)
Hyein Lee. In Bruges II. (www.hyeinlee.com)
Hyein Lee. Doomsday. (Instagram/@hyeinpain)
Hyein Lee. Doomsday II. (Instagram/@hyeinpain)
Hyein Lee. Bunnypocalypse. (Instagram/@hyeinpain)
Hyein Lee. Wolpertinger. (www.hyeinlee.com)

See more work from Hyein Lee on her website and on the new episode of Exhibitionists. Watch online or Sunday at 4:30 (5 p.m. NT) on CBC Television.

Want to see your creations on CBC Arts? Just send us an e-mail! You could be an Exhibitionist in Residence this season.


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