Unspeakable yet Visible
Sun young Lee
The subtitle of the painter Changyoung Kim’s 2021 solo exhibition “Longest Rainy Season Ever ” was inspired by the long rainy season in Korea in 2020, which reminded the artist of unbearable natural phenomena, along with the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, in that they have simultaneous global influence. For Kim, that is why the rainy season is a metaphor rather than a one-time event specific to a given year. Kim’s works, which at first glance look like monochrome canvases, are as subtly executed as events unfolding in a microscopic world. For the viewers whose eyes roam the canvas looking for an object that reveals the meaning of the painting, Kim’s rather unfriendly paintings are open to interpretation, as indicated by the title “Unintended.” The artist wants his works to be filled with as much as is omitted. The monochrome screen, where traces of something passing by remain, tries to capture a phenomenon with diverse particularities. The ever-changing climatic phenomena beyond human control resemble art. Contemporary art requires more than the will of the subject in its aims to represent what is impossible to express rather than to reproduce a definite referent.
That all the works in the exhibition are titled “Unintended” serves as a double-edged sword. The word can lead viewers in either the right or wrong direction; it can be a blessing or a curse. Even in the field of art where the free will of the creator is maximized, there is a great influence of the others. They are often referred to as nature, gods, the subconscious, madness, or a body. Others in his works come up mysteriously rather than noisily or grotesquely. A painting where the artist’s real intention can be figured out instantly allows us to link mystery with the moment. In terms of the style of painting, the others can present themselves through a mirror or a shadow inherent in the reproduction or representation. The artist’s interest in shadows, which has been sustained in his earlier works for a fairly long time, implies others that are inherent in the painting. He does not paint shadows on their own but rather paints shadows covered by another, a process that he repeats endlessly. The shadows that intensively appear in his works before the painting “Between Light That Does Not Resemble Anything and Shadows” (2014) represent the act of repetition and differentiation between covering and painting. When he created shadows by layering one shadow over another, they initially began with the image of his hand; however, they are deconstructed not into a physical entity but into a differential relationship.
Such a way of working applies to the scenery as well as to the artist’s own body that exemplifies the vivid reality. Although Kim does not reproduce nature in a concrete way, he presents nature on the canvas which can be called scenery, and such nature acts as primitive criteria that can relativize human civilizations represented by political economy. Kim’s approach to nature may be the result of his childhood experience of living in a traditional Korean house, or hanok, nestled at the foot of Mt. Inwangsan. Korea was transformed into a ‘republic of apartment buildings’ while Kim spent four years abroad for painting and study, and it deeply shocked him. The symbol of civilization was imbued in the vertical line of formative language as a symbol of civilization. Vertical lines were the sublime power that brought order to construction and chaos after the devastation of two world wars. But now that the energy of modern impulse has been greatly depleted, the same vertical lines come as a monument of the past that people want to tear down. In this exhibition, vertical lines can be sensed not as lines but as directional strokes of a fine brush. The viewers need to imagine what the artist covered and how he did it rather than what he painted. The air that holds light is felt between the image and the shade.
Just like the flow of air, this is determined not by substance but a process, not essence but traces, and not homogeneity but difference in a tiered manner. In particular, the sense of difference matters the most. From a modern philosophical perspective, whatsoever substance and essence are they are continually delayed and suspended. Kim’s works look subtly different depending on the condition of the light, whether artificial or natural, and they have living surfaces that have a different feel every time you see them. For people today who are living in a flood of spectacle, this is a subtle effect that only arises from painting. Painting is the fruit of what a human body can create on its own, a human who has certain levels of sensitivity, knowledge, and will. Such visual effects are produced by canvas over which multi-layered brushstrokes were made at intervals. They are not the cross-section of time cut at once, but countless cross-sections shakingly stacked on top of each other. They are composite traces that overlap over different time and space scales, producing a multi-layered effect. Like sensitive test paper such as litmus paper, high-purity abstract indices are premised. These indices are indirect indicators like annual rings that suggest climatic conditions. Like the artist who has been gradually affected by given conditions, the audience is gradually absorbed into his works.
It is not strange for Kim’s works, in which nothing is depicted other than delicate traces, to be filled with thoughts of the division of the nation, inspired by the scenery of Paju, Gyeonggi Province where he lives and works. In the “Longest Rainy Season Ever” exhibition, held for the second time following last year, more images are removed from the views seen from Odusan Unification Observatory. In the previous exhibition his works featured curved images in red and blue tones, but this time the curves were eliminated and the red tone separated from the blue tone. The only thing still resembling scenery is the rectangular composition under the yellowish lighting in the gallery. The red and blue tones remain an indication of the passing of the day in the sky and the water that reflects it. At last year’s exhibition, the scenes showed red and blue tones quietly blended together like North Korea’s Imjin River and South Korea’s Han River, which meet before they flow together to the West Sea. However, this year such scenes are divided into different canvases and placed in different exhibition rooms, as if to reflect the strained inter-Korean relationship. While a horizontal line is detected in the red-toned work on a square canvas, a diagonal line is seen on the blue-toned work on a rectangular canvas. This time the lines are used to indicate that there is something or that something disappears rather than being signified by contrast with curved lines. Potential tension of the vertical line is sensed in the brushstrokes made from top to bottom.
In this exhibition, vertical lines of the brushstrokes form an antithesis with the horizontal lines of the images. Although blue and red are contrasting colors, each monochrome canvas contains only a very little blue or red. The blue tones are very close to gray and the red tones to pink. The surfaces where subtle differences can be noticed each time are close to light rather than colors. Unlike fixed colors, light is in a state of flux according to the passing of time. In Kim Chang-young’s artworks, red and blue are in contrast, but they are separately used on separate canvases, and only a very small quantity of color in either case. The artist has tried to find the mid-point of the two extremes. As in the great canvas of the sky where the sun rises and sets, drawing a clear line between things is not the law of nature but a human rule. In Kim’s works, where colors are treated as if they are light, shadows are also dealt with in view of their relationship with light. Whether paintings of shadows or scenery, the canvases covered with layers of brushstrokes, innumerable temporality is condensed with past crossing present. That is, they are the image of his self, determined by the layering of time and space.