[평론] 2010 갤러리 아트사이드 'Inner Transcendence' 개인전 ③


A Hope that Lights the Dark Black Paintings by Kim Gil-Hu


Ahn Gyusik Curator, Busan Museum of Art


 Kim Gil-Hu is one of the rare artists who has never shied away from facing life head on. With his bold courage Kim has consistently refused the blind pursuit of the current trend, and he has almost brutally required of himself to maintain a tempered yet strict morality. He has been quoted as saying: "A painter should throw himself over the cliff of fate. " But for a painter who has devoted himself so entirely to painting for over twenty years, he has precious few works from the early years. The fact that Kim is known for his integrity and diligence makes one wonder even more why he has so little of his earlier works. The answer is in his philosophy on beauty. He believed that "beauty of universal appeal cannot be true beauty. " Regardless of what others thought of his works, Kim applied his own criteria of judgement and determined his works at the time were unsatisfactory. So it was in 1999 that Kim Gil-Hu valiantly disposed of some 13, 000 paintings he had fathered. With the pains from that tremendous loss behind him, Kim started anew as an artist. He firmly believed that one cannot renew oneself without giving up some things, and that traces from the past can become stumbling blocks.


 Having completely emptied his portfolio and become once again empty as a painter, Kim takes another big bet on his fate. He committed himself to the creation of his unique artistic realm, putting himself through a near ordeal of just a couple of hours of sleep each day. The first fruit of this painful endeavor was the Black Tears series created between 2001 and 2004. The Black Tears, into which the artist quite literally poured all his passion and energy, is marked by his almost religious use of black. The color appealed to him because of its capacity to embrace and absorb all. On this he recalls: "I felt more comfortable with the unpretentious darkness than light that radiated false brightness." The autobiographical Black Tears pieces were created by pasting several sheets of paper on the canvas and painting it over with black oriental ink and acrylic to build a thick layer of black. Then the painter would hammer or scratch the thickened black with a nail to make sharp lines. Sometimes he would rip out or peel off parts of the paper, scarring the black surface. It is along those scars that he carved the portraits of the vulnerable, fearful and excluded people who must continue on with their lives with deep scars in their hearts. Indeed, Kim's Black Tears embody in a condensed form the loneliness and grief of the human existence exuding from the depth of unconsciousness. One viewer of these works was actually able to overcome his suicidal urges because he witnessed there a sadness that was much greater than his own. This episode taught Kim a great lesson, that sadness may be cured by even greater sadness. The moment of epiphany was one in which hope had sprouted from where there was no hope. The small ray of hope that escaped the bottomless pit of despair is evident in the pigments the painter used. Against the pitch black backdrop, brilliant lights radiate from the fine lines of metallic and/or shiny powders of gold, silver and pearl. Here we find the positive affirmation of life and pursuit of hope even amidst total despair.


 It is perhaps this small hope he has discovered in the unfathomable darkness that gave his subsequent works a brighter shade. In 2005 he began a new project titled The Secret Garden. In this garden unfettered by rules of realism, Kim Gil-Hu quite unabashedly made a panoramic display of his childlike sensitivities. Here in the garden, one sees the boyhood desire that had laid low in the unconscious level unleashed and squirming like a snake. The pictured as having become one with the lilies, embracing and caressing them as a man would desire is visualized as dreams he has about lilies that he so loved as a young child. He is a lover and occasionally in a state of erection. The outburst of desire may be the imaginary cure his subconscious yearning has concocted for the scars in Black Tears. Yet from the pres en perspective it all seems sad, because ironically the painting reinforces the fact that one cannot return to that time.


 His love of lilies continues into the Pearl of the Aegean series known for his knife drawing method. Pearl of the Aegean is the nickname of Penelope, the wife of King Odysseus in Greek mythology. One comes to wonder what it was that the painter was looking for in this ancient heroine, who kept her honor and chastity amidst the threats and placations by her husband's enemies. The painter, however, was not interested in the drama of the Greek myth, which may be disappointing to some. His first inspiration actually came from Paul Mauriat's beautiful music, which led him to the story behind it, and thus the Pearl of the Aegean was born. In his paintings Penelope's hair is elaborately depicted as plants billowing in the wind from the Aegean sea, and here too one finds an abundance of lilies. This shows an emotional connection to his earlier works, The Secret Garden. Aside from the fact that he chose to use the knife instead of the brush in order to create more decorative and delicate lines, his works in substance and content share commonalities with the previous series of paintings.


 Of late Kim Gil-Hu is primarily concerned with hands and feet, which he says: "cannot be made over like the face and thus reveal the true and genuine expression in the raw. " Objects that are seen with the eye and registered by the brain are fully perceived only after touch. Hands cannot lie in this communication by touch, as that sensation is wholly transmitted to the brain. Meanwhile, the feet also play a crucial role in supporting the body and turning it to certain directions. However, the feet are often out of our usual range of sight, and we are inclined to forget their existence. The more recent works such as I See the Duck Foot, Piano, A Suffering King, My Life, and The Hand of Thought are dedicated to our hands and feet, which have not earned the praise they deserve though they have faithfully served their purpose.


 The three sets of serial paintings in Kim Gil-Hu's oeuvre show that he has a tendency to paint in keeping with the main theme of that particular series. However, he does not seem to have strategically planned his works to sew them organically together to align their con- texts. Rather, it appears that his life of passionate struggle is finally coming together bit by bit in the way that pieces of a puzzle are assembled to complete the picture. A humble man, Kim Gil-Hu does not overly pride himself on his achievements. He subjects himself to strict principles, and constantly challenges himself to strive for more. He is indeed a genuine artist, who is happy about his calling to which he more than willingly invests all his passion. For us, it is a joy to follow him in his endeavors.