[평론] 2010 갤러리 아트사이드 'Inner Transcendence' 개인전 ①


2010 GALLERY ARTSIDE BEIJING Inner transcendence


Pure painting, impure thought, and inner transcendence


Lee Jin-myung Curator, Gallery Artside


Modernity as we understand it today can reasonably be described as a cultural policy aimed at achieving a cultural universality in a system of urbanization, which is propelled by the idea that there is unlimited industrial productivity. Growth and expansion of industries naturally create more occupations. An occupation is a calling from Heaven, and accumulation of wealthy by fulfilling this calling was a central tenet of Puritanism. It also provided ethical justification for the excessive and faulty system called Capitalism.


The urban system consists of straight lines and vertical structures that defy efforts to distinguish one from another. They are the product of technological advances, labor under pressure for speed and materials that seem to have been cut, molded and processed by machines It is difficult if not impossible to find a place in this environment for humanity and divinity to reside even for a fleeting moment. We may call this the everyday life or secularity. The existence of the modern community could be threatened when people come to view this confusion of the mundane and secular life as being absurd and irrational. And so it was that the ideology of universal sensibilities was invented as a mechanism for sustaining the grand 20c system. The modern cultural policy had to promote immaculate purity separate from the chaos of the banal and this-worldly. The art museum and the church were two places relatively free from the interference of the mundane. In this context, modern culture was required to transcend the everyday. Modernism can be described as a journey of stylistic experimentations aimed at generating as much universal sensibilities and sympathy as possible under the physical limitations of the painting genre. The word ‘universal’ meant that it must be relevant and applicable to all, and this requirement created a pressure to achieve objectivity and purity. The myth of immaculate universalism was the sacred principle of this 20th century.


When art creates an aesthtical resonance transcending time and place, it is possible probably because the human race has an inner mechanism receptive to such resonance. But this mechanism is not independent of the soil and environment in which the individual grows. The uniqueness of an artwork is achieved when the artist seeks to deal with the mysteries in his life by employing his sensibilities, and therefore, it demands of the viewer to decode the intimate and personal story that is embedded in the piece. In the 21st century, universality or fundamentalism in art became irrelevant. The key now is in the unique individuality and the projection of the bane of our existence through that unique lens. To become a legend, one must make painful efforts to understand who he truly is, but fulfilling one’s potential demands even more


Perhaps the most remarkable of anecdotes about the painter Kim GilHu I am about to discuss is the burning of some 13,000 paintings he had produced. It did not fall short of act of terrorism. It sohwed the great faith Kim had in himself. The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard wrote in his book The Sickness unto Death: “To see oneself in the mirror requires that he first clearly recognize himself. Otherwise, he would not see his own self but merely a human figure The mirror of potential is different from all other mirrors because it requires the utmost attention to actually see the reflection in it.” To become a legend, one must take painful efforts to understand who he truly is, but fulfilling one’s potential demands even more as on must constantly exercise the highest level of awareness. Kim Gil-Hu was confident that he had reached a full understanding of himself, which confidence allowed him to annihilate his works, his alter ego. For him, the burning was not terrorism but a leap of faith he was able to take because he trusted that he could create a better trajectory.


The early works the painter had turned into ashes were formalistic with an inclination toward purity. These works were in a way a theater for constant battles between physical potential and limitations of painting as a medium. But after the incineration of a large body of works in 1999, Kim Gilhu began to incorporate his own experiences, memories, thoughts and issues close to his life in his pictorial space. From the modernist prospective this may be seen as penetration of impure thoughts, but from our contemporary view this was a true mirror in the making.


Mirrors reflect all appearances. However, this reflection will disappear if the dark coating in the back of the looking glass is removed. If we apply the mirror metaphor to artwork, the aesthetic style of a painting can be likened to the reflection in the mirror. Style is the surface that we perceive with our sight. The back of the mirror, then, to continue this metaphor is the spiritual growth that occurs as the artist survives through history and the ups and downs of his life. To simplify, the life of the artist is the back of the mirror that makes the reflection possible. Therefore, art, absent life, can neither move nor inspire others. Such superficial work will be nothing more than manifestation of style stripped of meaning. If we say that the appearance of Kim Gil-hu’s works is that of a black painting with rips, scratches and scars, the other side of the mirror that gave it reflective capacity is the narrative painting which embraces the artist’s life in its full depth.


The battlefield of impulses


The unwise philosopher believes that he has found the answer to his questions in search of truth. But that question is more often than not relevant to only himself. He may boast that he has conquered the world’s mysteries with his systematic logic and reason, but certainly he has achieved no such feat. It is only his linguistic framework for describing the world in his own terms that has become complete. We all aspire to be the strongest, the person who appears to know everything. In our mistaken thinking that person was often the scientist or the religious cleric. However, true sage is in the person who has a wealth of great experiences. The most powerful person is the one who has confronted the dizzying impulses of his inner being and reached a conclusion as a result. The scientist is merely someone who has spent years to study numbers and make observations with his senses. The religious leader has done little more than suppress or evade his inner impulses. The philosopher is another name for the depressed architect who has built himself a high tomb of words.


Art is not a design devised by Reason. It is not a formula that can be derived by using systems and data. Art is the intimate record of the one who has stood face to face with his impulses in that inner battlefield. Impulses have haunted people too numerous to count. The types of impulses are just as many. However, not all impulses can lead to the birth of art. It is only the sovereign impulse, the conquest of which demands that the individual rise above comfort, respect, reputation, honor and pride of oneself and of his family and to stand courageously in the face of death. No, I take this back. The sovereign impulse escapes definition, as does the strength to overcome it.


The painter Kim Gil-Hu chose art. He did so because it was not about the life in thi world. The scientific sage only produces materialistic outcomes, which of course, have their own value and meaning. The religious leaders who set an example for others are also great in their own way, great because they expound more on what is not allowed than what is allowed. But an artist, he must walk the path no one else has trod on. He must be willing to take an unknown path. People who have a definite role model to emulate, or who mix, match and strategize based on contents others have created in the past, or who mistake pleasure of the eyes as art do not fit the bill. Kim Gil-Hu threw away everything he had: a comfortable life, sexual fantasies, pride, and even fear of death. What remain are the impulses he has to deal with as he faces the pictorial space before him.


He holds in his hands a sharp knife and an awl. I wonder what they are for. Are they to cut way the complex web of strings that fill his inner abyss? Is the sharpness of the knife and awl symbolizing the cruelty of this world which always in one way or another scars the self? Again, it escapes definition. It is only sensed.


A splendid sadness


No one suffers more grief than one who has been rejected from this world. Complete alienation is painful. There are rare exceptions, however, when being expelled from the society and the system produce grand results. That is when the individual is banished to the realm of art. He is rightfully sad for having been rejected, but his end is splendid because he was allowed art. The person who chooses that which is useless in the eyes of this world are often branded as strange or incomprehensible, and the only occupation that is completely useless in practical terms is art. Is art merely an ontological frill with no useful value?


What happens in the story of Buddha raising the flower, which puzzled all but one monk who smiled back is not a miracle confined to the religious realm. Art can also enable that communion of the hearts unmediated by verbal explanations or logic. An artwork is an indicator of the depth and width of what the artist has seen and experienced in life. The breadth of vision into the untrodden path distinguishes an artist of good vision from one of lesser vision. One must walk the path no one has taken to acquire that broad vision into the unknown. Unlike other artists, who have chosen the path of decadence, Kim Gil-hu has never stepped down to corruption unless indulging in the love of flowers or designing his own secret garden qualifies as such. These are actually evidences to the contrary, as a strong passion dedicated to a single object of affection is a gregarious life of networking with family relations, acquaintances, groups, circles, and societies. They are constantly engaged in gatherings, parties and drinking with colleagues, in which process they build a kind of a camp. Kim prefers to walk alone and in secret, and to find an unusual flower on his solitary outings. His eyes would often be red from the encounter with an unusual flower, not from tears but from laughing with joy at the discovery. Artists typically enjoy communication, which I would guess shares etymological roots with the word community. More often than not, people communicate because there is something to gain from it. Artists are no exceptions. Their effort to communicate is driven primarily by the desire to have others understand them. In this respect again Kim Gil-Hu is different. He chose muteness and ignorance over communication for understanding. Muteness is not closely associated with intelligence because it is incomprehensible. If there were a beautiful girl deprived of speech, the man who is infatuated with her would probably be heartbroken with grief. But paradoxically that misery may very well be the greatest pleasure in the world. Contemporary artists in year 2010 explain their works with language, occasionally creating hilarious situations where the language dominates rather than supports the work of art. Indeed, language has already taken over the center stage in art. Kim Gil-Hu chose to go against this trend, opting for the non-language in his art. He wishes to create art that is like the beautiful girl who does not utter a single word.


The repeated knife cuts


Kim Gil-Hu pastes sheet after sheet of paper unto his canvas as if each represents another layer of time, of life. Just as the moist brush gives voice to each black figure, the knife and awl drive their sharpness into them and inflict painful scars. Anyone who has had a paper cut through her skin must have that traumatic memory of hot sting shooting through the nerves. Fortunately, a paper cut on the hand is pretty harmless and is guaranteed to heal. The more lethal is people’s eyes watching you as worldly reputation can leave a burning scar. But perhaps even more frightening is the Way of the World. It has a cutting blade, enough to annihilate the three vices of greed, rage and foolishness. The Way of the World is a chain of inevitabilities posing as chance and randomness. The repeated slashes and cuts Kim makes on his canvas reminds of the unforgiving Way of the World that will one day settle its scores. Kim’s paintings consist of warm and tender images, a coldness more cynical than utter darkness, and the occasional traces of light. These elements present a narrative about the Way of the World.


All beings that have an existence wish to make their voices heard, not always for their survival but for comfort, pleasure, and a sense of superiority over others. These desires nurture the growth and development of individuals, but they will inevitably lead to bitter regrets. Excruciating fear in life, and in the inevitable retribution awaiting us all. So how can we liberate ourselves from this frightful chain of karma? The answer is not in the world outside us. The key to unshackling us from this chain is to build one’s own secret garden in our hearts. Let us not forget that happiness of the heart can overcome all. This is the wisdom that Kim Gil-Hu has to share with us.


Inner transcendence


The virtue of Eastern thinking is its avoidance of dualistic division. Discrimination is considered one of the major vices to be eradicated, Ancient classical texts and teachings discuss how the sacred and the secular cannot be distinguished like black and white. The East is a world where the ordinary mind is the Tao or the Way, and this is fundamentally different from the West. In the Eastern philosophy one’s mind on any given day should be like the way of the Heavens, which makes every second of our lives precious. This world where the secular and the divine have no clear distinction is a world complete and in a state of inner transcendence. Kim Gil-Hu’s paintings exemplify this philosophy. He makes no judgments or discriminations on good and evil, beauty and ugliness, this world and the other world. All are equal in his art.


However, Kim Gil-Hu spends most of his time on the canvas, where there is always a heated battle of impulses. This is why he has such clear awarness of his self. His struggle is not against artistic style. It is a struggle against his own impulses, or his own life. He suffers from the agony of a man who cannot and does not distinguish between his life and his art. The only assistance he can expect in this struggle is from his artist’s hands and the sensations he receives through his skin. Kim Gil-Hu does not allow the pictorial space to become an object separate from himself. His art strives for a thorough self-incarnation because in his world, he is his art. This is the significance of his inner transcendence.