All of Dae-jun Shin’s paintings in this exhibition feature a pink elephant or blue cat, along with a little boy who seems to be the artist’s alter ego. The boy and the animals walk together (Strangers in the Night, Beyond, and A Windy Place); sleep together (For-Rest); sing or play music together (Song of Forest and Forest Rhapsody); or just play together (Forest Rhapsody). While the young boy is the object for the audience to project themselves onto, the elephant and cat seem to be projections of the boy’s inner mind.
Shin’s paintings recall two different versions of Ten Ox Herding Pictures, which are said to have been painted (respectively) by Puming and Kuoan, Zen monks of the Song Dynasty. Using the analogy of a boy monk and his ox, this set of paintings describes the stages of progress towards enlightenment. Like many novels, as well as dreams, Shin uses animals as mechanisms reflecting a person’s psychological state. Here, the pink elephant has particular significance as a companion who quietly protects the young boy during his time of dreaming and imagination. Filling a huge portion of the canvas, the elephant attracts the visual attention of the viewer. By keying the audience to see the elephant through the eyes of the child, Shin shapes the overall perspective for viewing his works.
In Apple (2020), the pink elephant transforms into an apple. Recalling René Magritte’s La Chambre d’Écoute, the apple occupies an enormous amount of space on the pictorial plane. In addition to the myriad symbolic associations of apples, this pink object also compels us to contemplate the link between an elephant and an apple. While serving as an updated example of the ox from Ten Ox Herding Pictures, the elephant also represents an archetypal sign that can change into anything else, including a blue cat (as in The Room).
In this respect, Dae-jun Shin’s paintings belong to the category of symbolic paintings, including religious paintings or diagrams. When looking at his paintings, we are inherently drawn to compare and analogize the contents of the picture with our own lives. His works have the typical composition and worldview of symbolic paintings, with a wide plain and low horizon, or an open space inside a forest. And the expression of childhood innocence can be read as the artist’s wondrous view of the world unfolding around him.
To Dae-jun Shin, the narrative inside the image is an aggregate of memories and experiences from the space of his own passage. Collecting these fragments of memories, he weaves them into a new story, thus creating a fairy tale for adults.
from <Dream tinged in time, the encounter with the small giant> by Eunjung Cho (curator at the Busan Museum of Arts)