It was not Christybomb who christened herself with such a notable artistic nom de plume.
“My friends gave me that name one day, and it kind of just stuck,” Christybomb said. “People said, ‘Oh, your work is the bomb!’ I’ve accepted it. It’s kind of fun.”
She knew the name had legs while strolling in New York City earlier this year. She was taking a break from concocting the glittery, googly-eyed, Technicolor pipe cleaner, pom-pom-powered work that has made her a rising artist — and art persona — with high-profile showings in multiple cities.
“I walked down the street and somebody asked me, ‘Are you Christybomb?’”
Yes. Why yes, she was.
But there’s a tale behind how a shy Korean-American kid named Christy Lee, born in Louisville, Kentucky, came to be a city-hopping artist based in New York. And then — of all places — to come to roost in the capital city of West Virginia with an attic studio on Quarrier Street.
After all, she first thought she’d answer the call of her strict Korean upbringing by pursuing a proper career as a research biologist. Instead, she’s a young thirty-something artist with a growing reputation hither and yon, and with a name she is in the process of turning into a registered trademark.
She also possesses perhaps the widest, weirdest collection of googly eyes in quite possibly the world.
Christybomb stands in her third-floor studio in one of the classic brick Quarrier Street homes in the Charleston East End Historic District, the bauble of the gold state Capitol dome visible down the street.
She wears leopard-print pants with matching leopard-skin furred slippers. She looks out at the world through translucent gray spectacles, her lips painted a rich pinkish red hue.
The two-room studio features one room of neat shelves of jars and bottles of gaily colored glitter, beads, sequins and other raw materials. Clear plastic bins of multicolored yarn, string and paint — so she can easily nab what she needs when inspiration strikes — line another wall.
In the other room sits a purple beanbag chair. It’s the throne, as it were, of her artistic queendom. Her beloved orange-furred Yorkshire terrier, Coco Chanel, who appears often in her work, has a purple dog bed beside the chair.
Key materials lie within an arm’s reach when she sits down.
Bins of lime-green, purple, orange and red pipe cleaners. Trays of Swarovski crystals, beads and miniature circular mirrors.
And googly eyes — those black circles that jiggle when shaken, set against a circular white backdrop like a crazy eyeball.
She has them in all shapes and sizes. Even glow-in-the-dark googly eyes.
“I collect googly eyes. I’m a googly eye collector,” she says. “If you see any cool googly eyes, let me know.”
Christybomb is just back from the SCOPE International Contemporary Art Show in Miami, part of the prestigious Art Basel annual showcase of modern and contemporary art.
Her 9-foot-tall, 6-foot-wide installation piece, “Unicorn Candy,” featuring 10,000 googly eyes along with sequins, pompoms, rhinestones and beads hand-glued onto fabric, was a hit of the show.
Bunches of people stopped and took selfies, enamored with the battery-operated googly eyes that clicked and blinked open at random. There are a bunch of video selfies out there with fans of the piece blinking their own eyes randomly.
Hot-young-thing actress Sasha Lane (“American Honey,” “The Miseducation of Cameron Post”) showed up in a photograph in Vogue magazine this month in front of the piece, saying the work was her favorite of the entire sprawling event.
“I’ve always wanted to activate my work, where it moves,” Christybomb said. “The only way I could figure to do that was blinking eye balls.
“Late at night, I’m Googling ‘blinking eyeballs,’” she said, describing the work’s genesis. “They would blink at random all day long, and they made this, like, weird paparazzi click. It ended up being the most photographed piece at the show.”
Christybomb prides herself on using throwaway materials to make fine art, as well as drawing inspiration from avant-garde fashion, drag queen shows, and childhood fantasy toys, shows and figurines.
She is quick to point out predecessors who have paved her glittery way. She found a mentor in renowned 73-year-old artist Howardena Pindell, who made a name for herself using unconventional materials in her paintings, such as glitter, string, perfume and postcards.
“She comes to all my shows,” Christybomb said.
Brooklyn artist Chris Martin is another role model in her glittery tribe.
“He was the first time I saw an actual professional using glitter,” she said admiringly.
Speaking of Brooklyn, she had already turned her attention from Miami to making new work for the storied Sideshow Gallery in Brooklyn, for a show opening Jan. 7 called “Thru the Rabbit Hole 2,” which if there were ever a shorthand for the “Alice in Wonderland” nature of Christybomb’s work, that title would be it.
Seated in her purple chair, her glue gun at the ready, she turned her artist’s eye to one of the circular, multicolored yarn and pipe cleaner artworks on which she is currently focused. They are for another show, “Layered,” at Art NXT Level Projects/33 Contemporary Gallery in Chicago, opening Jan. 20.
The pieces are not complete circles. Empty spaces interrupt the edges and interior of each piece as if it were an historic, aged fragment from a long-lost Day-Glo civilization.
“I like to bring life to these unsung heroes, these materials that no one really pays attention to,” Christybomb says, as she shoots a dab of glue and attaches a miniature yellow pom-pom to one of the openings of a circle.
“When I do that, it makes me really happy,” she says. “It feels like it’s successful to me when I’m able to highlight these otherwise throwaway materials like pompoms or googly eyes. A key point in my work is nostalgia.”
Candyland? Hello Kitty products? Goofy classic children’s movies?
All are inspirations.
For Christybomb, the 1971 film “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” was “a really big deal in my life.”
“I would watch it over and over,” she says, running her fingers through a plastic tray of sequins as if they were diamonds. “I’m trying to recreate that feeling of fantasy in my work, using a lot of childhood materials, but kind of transforming them into high art.”
Christybomb is often burning the midnight oil in her Quarrier Street home.
She has a Valentine’s Day-themed solo show called “Dearly Beloved” in early February at the Brooklyn Alliance Fellowship Gallery. In April, she’ll be the featured [SOLO] artist at Artexpo New York at Pier 94, one of the largest fine arts fairs in the world.
About this time in the story, a reader might be wondering: “Rising New York art star, juried into important international artistic showcases, solo shows right and left.
“So, what is she doing in a place the Charleston band the Carpenter Ants once christened an ‘itty-bitty city,’ the capital of what one would think would be the itty-bitty art scene in the state of West Virginia?”
For the answer, one must look to her husband, Dr. Nicholas Bremer.
Bremer, a pain-management doctor, was recruited to join — speaking of prestigious — Dr. Tim Deer’s Center for Pain Relief in Charleston, a renowned national center for people dealing with acute and chronic pain.
The couple moved to Charleston about six months ago, while she left a bulk of her work behind at the Upper West Side studio she still maintains in New York.
Christybomb had one important question for her doctor-husband. Given her work, the availability of well-stocked craft stores such as Michael’s is kind of key.
“I’m, like, ‘So they have a Michael’s?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘OK, we’re good,’” she said.
She was not, however, sure what art scene she would find, if any, in the itty-bitty city.
She took in a few of the city’s ArtWalks, a monthly evening that features a host of shows, exhibits and happenings downtown.
She encountered Lisa Fischer Casto, owner of The Art Store at 223 Hale St. They hit it off.
“She knows her art very well,” Christybomb said. “She liked my work. She showed me a contract the next day.”
That’s why you can view Christybomb’s artwork right now at The Art Store in the exhibit “Deck the Halls,” on view (and for sale) through Christmas Eve.
The show includes a large version of one of her fragmented yarn and pipe-cleaner works, “Peekaboo,” plus her colorfully decorated Day of the Dead skulls and other pieces.
“I immediately liked her,” Casto said of their meeting. “I thought she was very different from the other artists I represent. I liked her colors, and I liked that she uses unusual materials to do her work. I don’t know how people don’t love what she does. It’s very cutting edge.”
Christybomb said she was delighted to find kindred souls in West Virginia’s capital.
And an art scene — one that “got her,” she added.
“I just assumed that there wasn’t one. And I was wrong,” she said.
So, that leaves the question of how she strayed into Wonderland.
Lee, after all, graduated from the University of North Florida with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a minor in public health in 2011.
To give herself what she calls a change of scenery, she ended up in Japan. She was teaching English at a private school in 2015 when the historic tsunami hit, killing more than 15,000 people and devastating a swath of the country.
“With the upheaval I experienced in Japan, I realized life is short, and I should follow my dreams about what I want to do.”
One word. Well, three words:
Be an artist.
“I went to an art store. I couldn’t read any of the Japanese,” she said. “I started plucking out colors I liked in glitter and paint.”
She moved to New York City. She began building a portfolio of self-taught work.
She, rather brazenly for an unschooled, self-taught artist, was accepted into the MFA program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, one of the top art schools in the land. She graduated in 2015, in a big Madison Square Garden ceremony.
Things have snowballed from there.
She hasn’t left the science background behind, including five years working in a research lab.
As Lee, she once had to construct electrodes by hand under a microscope.
As Christybomb, she merged science and art to make “bio-art,” fashioning paintings of actual viruses, using a thin layer of glitter. They could only be viewed under microscopes.
Then there was the social media-ready name for a 2014 show at the School of Visual Art: “Glitter is the Herpes of the Art World.”
Even though she is a card-carrying member of the glitterati art world, current affairs blaze out of some of her past work.
At her website, christybomb.com, check out her in-your-face glitter, acrylic and fabric paintings depicting North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
These include one depicting him receiving a kiss from Dennis Rodman during the basketball star’s controversial visits with the country’s fearless leader. (Rodman later repudiated the visits in 2014, saying he was unaware of the atrocities committed by the regime.)
Christybomb has moved on from that work.
“I no longer feel like I need to explore that territory anymore,” she said
Her glue gun ever hot, her shelves and trays of glitter, string, googly eyes and whatnot at the ready, she knows where she is headed.
“I kind of want to do fun, kitschy fantastical wonderlands,” she said.
Reach Douglas Imbrogno at
304-348-3017 and follow
@douglaseye on Twitter.