Kisoo Kwon: Reflection (Gangnam Space)

Kisoo Kwon: Reflection (Gangnam Space)

sky high-pilgrimage by kwon ki-soo

Kwon Ki-Soo

Sky High-Pilgrimage, 2011

Price on Request

Wednesday, December 7, 2011Saturday, December 31, 2011


Seoul, South Korea

Jienne Liu (Curator, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea)

Kwon Kisoo’s works are known for their exuberant colors, patterned backgrounds and charming figure-like characters. Kwon’s works from the early 2000s show single protruding characters with patterned backgrounds. These works show the process of his own introspective, answer-seeking process to the question of how one can navigate society. We can glimpse the artist’s hope to establish himself in his field and his desire to continuously confirm his position in the art world. In reflection of these aspects, the characters endlessly wander around in the air or aimlessly stroll on an undesignated pavement; the background is an ideal world or scenes from the artist’s on experience.

The sentiment of isolation and solitude seen in his early works are ways of revealing Kwon’s reflection or introspection on the external world, a modern way of portraying Zhulinqixian; that is, leading a carefree life and turning his back against the world which is filled with migraine-inducing controversies and conflicts. As seen from this, Kwon’s background is deeply rooted in traditional Korean painting, and we can see that his world is still connected to traditional Korean art. His character-image in the early era was a utilization of an already-familiar image seen in the ancient painting catalogues of Eastern Asia or shown in simple black ink drawings.

Kwon wished to unravel the inner turmoil and conflict caused between his inclinations for a carefree life and suffocating realities with impromptu-like drawings in simple black ink. The character-image is soon greatly simplified and becomes like a sign; nowadays, it is more fixated to a single icon-like figure.

Kwon’s recent works, however, show changes in this character image. As the background grows even more splendid and exuberant, more abundant narratives are being unfolded. Within this mainstream, the character image is both a delegate or surrogate of the artist and at the same time, a story-teller in a clown costume who provides entertainment to the viewers. Before, his character-image was all about smiling faces, causing some misunderstanding that all Kwon ever tries is to make a pretty work or one at least resonating with happiness. However, looking closely, we can see that the saddened fact of life is also present; for some people, it is imperative and inevitable for them to grin even under the grim facts of life, and, as a mere human-being, one is ruled by the human sentiments of joy, anger, sorrow and pleasure. This is like the pathos of the clown who must make people laugh on stage. Kwon’s figure has a standardized smile, a diamond-shaped body and simplified outline, all of which accentuate and stress the presence of the icon-life figure, placed at the center of the picture. Due to the simplified representation, the figure has less impact of an actual, lively existence yet the untold stories of the figure are overall complemented by the theme, composition and the impression of colors.

With the variety of subjects, meticulous compositions, refined color expression and simplified figure, Kwon makes his work much more ample. The subject matter is still dealt with in a simplified manner, but the juxtaposition of the color field and partially-divided section further boosts the adornment of the screen. The exuberant colors of the screen may look like a digital print, but they are still imbued with analogue sentiment and technology.

Kwon’s use of colors is like the traditional multicolored paintwork found on Korea’s ancient buildings. The colors were carefully chosen and meticulously applied through a laborious taping process with retouch after retouch, requiring hundreds of hours of labor. As can be witnessed through the sharp cut cross-sections in the background, these further protrude upon and emphasize the jubilant color fields. Such vibrant use of colors is a by-product of Kwon’s efforts through which he maximizes and fully utilizes the value and assets of the genuine painting work.

Kwon’s method of screen composition is not an enumeration of subjects but a creation of stories with carefully-chosen subjects all together. The subject of bamboo trees, flowers, or wave-like rainbows enrich the screen narrative, further inspiring the audiences’ imaginations. Each subject entails its own stories.

His recent works frequently show the reflected image of the figure on the water, which could be interpreted as the artist’s hope of reflecting his life in the past. In this respect, this figure is like a self-portrait. On the other hand, the reflected image of the rainbow symbolizes the realm of fictional imagery. The rainbow makes the viewer doubt the world or reality unfolding in front of one’s very own eyes.

The repetition of the meaningless illusions reminds us that such doubts will strike us again and again in the as-yet-unarrived future of reality, because the repetition is not in a stand-still status. On the other hand, the orthodox meaning of a rainbow from the traditional painting field could be also applied. Conventionally, a rainbow signifies a medium that connects reality and the imaginary. It can also be a bridge that could connect a solitary hermit with the world.

In this regard, the person who crosses the rainbow in his works could be seen as someone who is seeking another person who has been placed beyond the rainbow, i.e., the other world. Likewise, Kwon does not differentiate the past and present while endowing meaning in the subject. The fountain, shown in simplified outlines, are similar to orchid paintings, and the bamboo trees represented in the color fields are also frequently seen Korea’s traditional painting, which both symbolize the hermit’s place and, at the same time, are similar to skyscrapers with their emphasis on verticality. Kwon’s way of transcending the past and present again accentuates the fact that his way of succeeding to tradition is not simply adopting the traditional way of painting, as in using ink.

Even with the seemingly-splendid background, he limits the subject matter, such as bamboo trees, flowers and rainbow waves; these are self-replicating, or breeding, within the screen on their own. It seems like this may have inherent limits, but does not. The Four Gracious Plants--the plum, orchid, chrysanthemum and bamboo--were long-lasting themes in gentry paintings, lasting four hundred years.

As these subject matters had long-enduring dominance in the art world, Kwon’s combination of subject matter and composition manifest numerous variations. For a while, the Four Gracious Plants were the most commonly-chosen subject matter for the learned gentry and scholars, who used ink and Hanji (Korea’s traditional paper). They were the symbol of the endeavors to overcome reality and to harness one’s temperament.

Under this influence, Kwon wishes not to isolate himself from Korea’s world of traditional painting, constantly reminding himself that his source of artistic inspiration was from this venerable history. Kwon aims to train himself as an artist by utilizing modern tools and methodologies. Kwon is aware of the fact that simply adhering to ink painting is not properly portraying and conveying the spirit of oriental art and Korean art. This is why he challenges himself with various mediums such as painting, sculpting, installation or video.

For him, painting is the medium with which he can unfold and ensure the most primitive ideas of the artist; he liberates his imagination with painting, such as the utilization of colors and forms. The limits residing in painting, however, such as constructing composition, adding elements of motion or a lack of haste, were overcome with animation. When he encountered problems in space dominance, he again challenges himself with sculpting and installation works.

While he further masters his skills and techniques, his works are becoming even more splendid yet complex at the same time. The background space is a single space where the division of the ground, sky, ocean or water is unnecessary, and hidden behind the varied subjects and figures.

The whole space is dominated by a single colored background, making time and space even more ambiguous and further provoking viewer imagination. The canvas is packed with those motifs, with Japanese apricot flowers and bamboo in full bloom, from any perspective or three-dimensional feature. This gives the works an allover painting-like concept, further advocating the adornment tendencies of his work.

Like a cosmic big-bang, energy is internally conglomerated and condensed within the screen; then exploded and expanded into the outer realms of the canvas. Contrary to this explosion of energy, the serene introspection is concurrent with the exploding energy, even minimalist in a way. Kwon adopts a dialectical principle of achieving overall balance by seeking appropriate control of the screen composition.

Through this process, Kwon continuously raises the question of what is artistic reflection and action, finding his own answers and being constantly aware of this issue. As for how to unfold his idea, Kwon learned to have an open mind toward methodology and processes in this. As Kwon strenuously seeks how to actualize his ideas without physically involving the artist’s engagement, this becomes his most impending task: his works are embroidered with a variety of new trials and ventures, at the same time, ensuring profundity for his content and maintaining a boost for his career perspective.

From the end of the 1990s and into the early 2000s, new artists have attracted attention with novel ideas and subject matters, gaining dominance and influence in the art scene. However, there are still few who continuously develop novel ideas based on artistic tenacity; Kwon absolutely stands out even amongst these few with his harmonious combination of new ideas, integrity toward art and technique.

In this regard, the time is now ripe to endow proper assessment and interpretations of Kwon’s works, going beyond mere curiosity. This exhibition provides ample support and grounds to meet our expectations further attuned to the sentiments and imagination of the audience. All this as a whole could be a new impetus with which Kwon can envisage and unfold a new story.