Written by ART Driven Tokyo

Courtesy of the artist and Diesel Art Gallery

DIESEL ART GALLERY presented L.A.-based Korean American artist and actor JOSEPH LEE’s first solo show in Japan “PLEASURE IN THE PATHLESS WOODS” from September 23rd through November 16th, 2023. The artist is a Korean American artist/actor who recognized the greatness of nature’s power during the pandemic, and he broke new ground.


Known for portraits of hidden identities. Changed the subject to nature after the Corona disaster. Inspired by Byron’s poem

Photo: Miki Matsushima
Courtesy of the artist and Diesel Art Gallery

The exhibition’s title is a line from Canto IV of Lord Byron’s poem “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” ―the viewer is invited to enter into an intimate relationship with the artist, who in past years has gone on a pilgrimage of solitude.

Joseph Lee is known for his large-scale portraits and has long been fascinated by people, their masks, and ultimately, hidden identities. However, during the pandemic, the artist was forced away from his usual subjects, and instead, he took walks in nature, alone.

Courtesy of the artist and Diesel Gallery

This daily solitude forced a natural trajectory to move away from faces and instead investigate his surroundings. “PLEASURE IN THE PATHLESS WOODS” is a representation of his time in solitude and ultimately, a celebration of wandering off through an unknown place and all that entails – fear, uncertainty, excitement, and then: a clearing, a beautiful meadow, sun shining through in a certain slant, and the trees opening to a clear sky.

“How small we all are to the natural forces. Release control and allow me to lean into whatever moment comes”

Courtesy of the artist and Diesel Art Gallery

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal.

―Canto IV, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

PLEASURE IN THE PATHLESS WOODS opens up moments where the subject’s intention may be invisible or unknown, but after an invitation to pause and reflect on context – the steps that come before and after each moment – unfolds into delightful surprises of layered meaning, tacit connection, and almost accidental growth.

The act of smoking a cigarette – mundane yet sacred – finds men huddled together for a brief moment, excused from daily realities to secure their headspace for those few drags. This is camaraderie among those who are unable to communicate or be vulnerable in any other way.

A child at the precise moment where he/she/they is no longer a kid. In some ways, they have been forced to grow, yet they can also actively choose to turn a new page and embark on their future, full of fear, yet also of curiosity and excitement.

A son reconnects with an estranged father who finds it easier to apologize than to express love, even as he struggles to rebuild a broken relationship before passing away.

Lee’s selection of the quote from Byron’s classic poem pushes the famous melancholy of the “Byronic hero” closer to the stoic, the humble and curious observer. Lee notes: “It brings me peace and humility knowing how small we all are to the natural forces surrounding us. But the peace also comes from the unknown path. To release control and allow me to lean into whatever moment comes.”

This exhibition showcases the pathlessness of humans woven into the natural world.

Courtesy of the artist and Diesel Art Gallery
Courtesy of the artist and Diesel Art Gallery
Courtesy of the artist and Diesel Art Gallery

JOSEPH LEE is a Korean-American artist and actor based in Los Angeles. Lee primarily paints portraits in which colorful, abstract strokes suggestively conceal the subject’s face. Lee explores and expresses the emotions that reside in the person through segmented brushstrokes, color choices, and volume.

His acting credits include the 2018 Sundance Award-winning film Search, the much-talked-about Beef, which premiered on Netflix in 2023 and was nominated for 13 Emmy Awards, and the popular Paramount+ sci-fi series Star Trek: Picard (season 3).

Photo: Miki Matsushima
Courtesy of the artist and Diesel Art Gallery

Editor’s Note

Joseph Lee has expressed the emotions that reside in the human face with powerful brush strokes and the volume of his oil paintings. As an actor by profession, who lives between acting and truth, an actor cannot count on the outside, but always focuses on the inside, on the double meaning.

Lee’s ability to depict the inner life of a human being by effectively destroying the exterior of a character has also allowed him this time to portray the greatness of the power of nature. It can be said that Lee’s unique and energetic brushstrokes have succeeded in depicting the greatness that nature holds in store, rather than nature as we see it.


Photographer: Ja Tecson


Exhibition Overview (Ended)

Dates: 2023.9.23(Sat) – 11.16(Thu)
Address: cocoti B1F, 1-23-16, Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03-6427-5955
Hours: 11:30-20:00 (may be subject to change)
Entry: Free
CURATOR: JORDAN A. Y. SMITH www.jordansmith.space
VP Production (Naro. tv), co-founder of the COEM poetry and tech collective, literary translator, poet, and professor of Japanese studies and comparative literature.
Construction: Kenzo Kasuya
Web: https://www.diesel.co.jp/ja/art-gallery/joseph_lee

The limited edition goods specially created for the exhibition are on sale at the online store.
Online Store: https://dieselartgallery.stores.jp
X (formerly Twitter): https://twitter.com/dieselart
Hashtag: #josephlee #dieselartgallery

Photo: Miki Matsushima
Courtesy of the artist and Diesel Art Gallery


DIESEL ART GALLERY is known as a place to casually meet upcoming artists or avant-garde works you never see elsewhere. Art exhibitions are presented on a wide range of themes selected from all over the world, featuring graphics, photographs, and installations in any genre, popularity, or generation.

Actual artworks and original goods can be purchased at the gallery. Located in the concept store “DIESEL SHIBUYA” with good access to Shibuya, the gallery attracts attention as a cutting-edge art base.

Website: https://www.diesel.co.jp/ja/art-gallery