• November 26, 2008
  • Posted by Marc

“Give ‘Em Props!”:  Ji Lee on “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus”

“Is there ONE painting, book, stencil, sculpture, or piece of architecture that truly inspires you in your daily work?”


“Landscape with the Fall of Icarus”  c. 1554-55, oil on canvas
by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Netherlands (1525-1569)

In Ancient Greek mythology by Ovid, Icarus, succeeded in flying, with wings made of feathers secured with wax, but he flew too close to the sun (metaphor for god), melting the wax, and fell into the sea and drowned. His legs can be seen in the water, just below the ship. It’s a tragic story of human greed and arrogance.

What I like about this painting is that the main subject of the painting is barely shown. It’s a tiny little detail on the bottom right. While the hero drowns, the life goes on: The farmer is plowing the earth, the shepherd is daydreaming and it’s just another beautiful and warm day. It’s pretty revolutionary for any artist (specially for a 16th century artist) to place his main subject so physically insignificant on the canvas. Once you notice the dangling legs, it’s impossible not to look at them again and again. There’s so much psychological tension and drama in such a small detail. The painting itself is beautiful with seductive, round shapes and the red shirt of the farmer stands out to wake up the viewer. I was very fortunate to see this painting live in Brussels. It’s absolutely hypnotic and seductive. It inspires me to think outside the box each time I look at it. I believe some of my work, specially the “Parallel World” installation was somehow influenced by this painting.”“... Ji Lee