Visiting a Friend on a Snowy Day
― Flowers and Paintings
Loitering outside the door
The purpose for writing this article on the morning of the eleventh of April in the year two thousand and eight is not to give some "commentary" on Kim Suyoung’s paintings in the tone of some expert on culture standing before a dozen foreigners at the Changgyeong-gung Palace. Nor is the purpose to "interpret" the meaning of Kim’s work from an aesthetic or critical perspective serving enticing words on the significance of the work screaming “Here it is!” to the reader. Today, Kim Suyoung’s paintings are not a subject of questioning or determining "What is that?" On the theoretical play of inquiry to assess and make critical judgment I am, at least today, indifferent. I do not want to "handle" Kim’s paintings in that sort of way. The reason being is, to me, the issue is rather how do I, my body and my heart, "experience" the secular conditions and attitudes of someone’s work. During the 17 – 18th Century Choseon Dynasty, there was a very famous series of paintings called the Seoljungbang-udo that translates into "Visiting a Friend on a Snowy Day". I want to approach Kim Suyoung’s paintings as if I were visiting a friend on a snowy day.
The early Spring is filled with the flowers, peach blossoms, apricot blossoms and baby azaleas. How does the azalea experience the world? What has happened within its curved body, resembling well-written calligraphy, to make it push up the flower bud and finally burst out in blossom? Do trees "represent" the world through blossoms? Does a painting bloom like a flower or does it burst out like a blossom? When does a painting bloom? In the Spring? In the early Spring? All sorts of thoughts come to mind as I look at Kim Suyoung’s paintings. But perhaps the virtue of the paintings is to have people suffer – if it should be the painting’s place to take care of oneself and not others while suffering. Maybe to paint is to face loneliness. Perhaps it is something like burying the loneliness inwards, over and over, and finally caressing the loneliness and the wounds attached to the various connections that bore that loneliness in the first place rather than screaming out, "I’m lonely!” and pestering the neighbors. When this is turned inside out like a pocket, the loneliness becomes longing. Loneliness is a longing to cross over and to spread. When the state of matter goes this far, the painting transcends the surface – as if nothing happened.
Opening the door and entering
This artist’s painting is a bit more complicated than I had anticipated. To follow the artist’s work process, she went to remote places like Marseille to look at ("research" in contemporary terms), examine, photograph, scrutinize and even stay in Le Corbusier’s structures. There was a certain spirit of reality and genuineness or more precisely, a sense of the architecture breathing and the strong desire of the artist to connect with it in a more direct and physical way. Kim does not cut off the landscapes from their original contexts to reduce them into still lifes, but tries to treat them as landscapes. The landscapes are organisms which finally start breathing in the depraved entanglements of secular human ties – becoming-in-context. Next is the fact that the artist revives the memories and traces gained from the site and engraved on the body, but in the end, paints "through" the photographic images. Interestingly, this gesture, which looks like a reference to the image, is not an attempt to copy the visual details recorded on the image more accurately or fully, but a sort of encouragement to maintain the rhythm of the body, which continues to paint. "Chuimsae" or rhythmic cheering, resembles the way a conductor charges himself with the rhythm by taking occasional glances at the sheet music. The skin of the painting appears thin, but Kim’s paintings consist of layer after layer of very delicate brushwork. They are each a dance among the ever so abundant lines, fields, shapes and colors together with the brush strokes. Kim’s paintings are by no means flat. If we get closer to examine, listen to and smell them, there are so many cinematic details. We learn that the painting is actually breathing. When spectators are able to sense the breaths of the artist along with the abundant details, then the painting transcends the surface. At that moment, I linger further inside the painting and feel my own breath. The problem is the way the artist experiences the building, and "lives the painting" through painting it. Instead of self-dissolving, by throwing around language with expressionist flattery, the artist holds up the painting by becoming the painting itself. The artist stands alone in the doorway that connects the painting with the world, looking about. As Mr. Tao Yanming of the 4th century said long ago, "I pick a chrysanthemum from under the east fence, gazing at the South Mountain as I smell its scent." At that moment the landscape spreads towards me dimly and very slowly through the thick fog.
Kim, Hak-Lyang (Artist, Exhibition Planner, Full Time Lecturer at Dongduk Women’s University)