Kim Family Exhibition - Hee-Ouk, Whi-Boo and Edmond Kim
Hee-Ouk Kim’s first statement about her lively paintings filled with figures, whole fields of faces, is to admit an absolute curiosity regarding strangers. On one hand, the painter describes first drawing the canvas of figures as a way of coping with culture shock. Relocating to the vast urban sprawl of outer Los Angeles made every journey, even in its transportation, into an extraordinary display of the sheer scale of people she experiences living among. As a painter with a personal preference for privacy, she made a practice of absorbing the spectacle and then harnessing a sense of fellowship with them, bringing the scale of the experience into a workable medium in her studio.
Starting with ink drawings on pale colored grounds, she works to deliver the individual and personal and produces results that are life positive, concentrated and unimposing, a magic sweep of converting shock into egalitarian physical presence. The groupings are not the natural scattering patterns of social interaction, but rather a visual dispersion of social mapping into individualistic figures outlined by the space of their own characters, transforming an otherwise dense grouping of people into a survey of spaciousness among personal lives. The effect invokes a fearlessness and affection, making the paintings delightful and reassuring.
Working indoors the artist habitually listens to talk radio, and describes the moment when the steady music of language, at first in Korean and eventually English, began to slip into the paintings as tonal textures. Throughout the paintings, one will notice the shading of a shirt or jacket is a fill of fine handwriting. Further interest is introduced with a handful of favorite symbols, reduced to human size, of umbrellas or houses. She intermingles with her fascination for the people of her world with symbols of safety, security and communication.
Hee-Ouk described making a trip to Seoul after a number of years, after working through her art to understand the density of the city she was living in, and saw that the Korean city had a similar extraordinary range of people. It was relief, and a milestone for her heart. When asked about individual identities in her paintings, friends and family, she suggested we find ourselves. After a period af amusement looking closely, we did indeed find each other among the faces in her work, all present and accounted for. Through her art, the painter found a channel to take in the wonder of being a human among humans.
Whi-Boo Kim is closely tied to the rise of art in his native South Korea, but a conversation with the 25 year resident of Northridge, CA reveals him to be a consummate Angelino. A home loving man, he considers himself the neighborhood watchman, spending time in his garden and keeping an eye out for his neighbors.
All of his paintings are conducted outside, working flat, and are periodically brought indoors to check the colors. Building up and reducing layers, concentrating, sanding, scratching , creating tonal borderlines and adding fields of color, he balances shape, development, stability and erosion to create primarily abstract paintings that are hard to ignore for their architectonic affinity. Blink and you might be viewing an aerial photo of an archeological excavation. I mentioned reading this reference a number of times, and he embraced it. Pointing out the recent use of pyramids and their cast shadows, I mentioned some of the paintings appeared to resemble Ancient Egyptian temple complexes. “Not temples,” he responded quickly, “Tombs.” His work surrounds the interest produced by the confluence of society’s collective works and the transformative affect of time’s accrual.
While not the objective, the results are his painterly process and his response to life as an immigrant, long time Los Angeles resident, and witness to the aftermath of the 1994 Northridge earthquake. He builds up color and form as we do in life, he cuts them back down again using numerous techniques of attrition and delivers a taste of life as it has progressed, matured, grown more complicated and yet gradually collapsed – just like ancient ruins. In philosophical reflection, and a close look into his own experiences he has found an approach to painting that closely relates his feelings about the world, a real triumph.
Other paintings include more readily identifiable elements, which frequently introduce stark and symbolic American iconography – a cowboy or a Coca Cola bottle. Against an analogy of deeply processed compositions, heavily worked and cumulative, these symbols seem to hover like tremendous shadows. They seem a grand imposition on a painterly accretion that is strangely beautiful, integrated and digested, in harmony with the march of time. Against this the symbols almost appear as freshly postered billboards juxtaposed against a stark wilderness landscape. Perhaps this mirrors the time he spent following the earthquake picking through the rubble, seeking after found objects, and following the footsteps of countless artists before him. In the trash there lies treasure, made valuable by distinction or placement, or by right of being made prominent as remains.
The artist feels that his work is difficult to understand, even by critics, and recounts demanding writers to revisit his studio when they don’t get it right. He strongly identifies with his profession as an artist, one that influences the entire family, having lived during a transition between being among a handful of pioneering youth gathered around the very few contemporary artists in his native country to watching the arts there bloom in the wake of growing public wealth and support. From afar, living in the peaceful base and counting his blessings for the life that art provides him and which so closely matches his own temperament, he has watched approvingly as the seeds he planted have bloomed into a garden.
At the time of this article Edmond was exhibiting his photographs for the first time, and one couldn’t help but be curious at the experience of exhibiting with his parents. Now living apart with a family of his own, it is a pleasant thought to consider the arrangement of art objects together in one room as some sort of reunion of the family’s creative spirit, the results of the three people who lived and worked together again being placed materially under one roof.
Perhaps in response to the private, home-centric existence he was raised in, his photographs revolve around capturing details that are overlooked. At first this was not readily apparent, his camera being drawn to scenes ranging from a pavement closeup to a landscape captured in unusual angles between buildings. As he provides a tour of the images, the device becomes apparent, and one notices the small ceramic object in one image and its relationship to a frail tendril of ivy clinging to an otherwise purely inorganic stucco wall in another photo. He also enthusiastically embraces the technical aspects of photography and pointed out references to film work, such as the display of raw images to underline the absence of cropping and a dedication to composition being the entirely the result of his direction.
The Kim family show brought a collective demonstration as well, one of hard evidence describing the social and personal influence such a family has on a community. The self-described way of life, quietly working for a peaceful and productive home, a way of relating to their neighbors and city - all these elements reveal the calm yet watchful eye of trained communicators. Though their gardened home and warm demeanors may not at first glance sound engaged, the Kim family pays considerable attention to their surroundings, living examples of the civilized and integral role creative people have among us all.