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Dae-Won Yang

Dae-Won Yang, Savina Museum of Contemporary Art


1966, Yangpyeong





Seed, 2015

Korean Paper, Acrylic, Soil, Glue, Coffee and Linseed Oil on Cotton, 137.5 x 126.5cm

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Looking at a red wall from the forest of tears

Yang,Dae-Won incorporates the features of peoples way of living in the world with his unique round man figures(called Dongulin) and an intense primary color contrast in the manner of simplicity and symbolism. In this exhibition all of the works, which he created over the last two year, have red. Different from the composition of the characters presented in previous solo exhibitions, in this exhibition his composition format also changed from his earlier style, which was omniscient and contemplative. Such omnipotent perspective has transformed into an overwhelming composition: now the large canvases are filled with human faces overwhelming the audience.  Above all other changes, Dongulin, who used to wear a mask and military uniforms, a symbol of power and authority, hiding his true intention and keeping a bright lookout on strangers, is described as a teary figure. What brought all these changes to the artists twelfth solo exhibition? What does it mean to the artist?

Isolation from the world, going out to the world, quest for the world and speculation about the world
Yang has been suggesting very personal and implicit exhibition themes with brief words since his solo exhibition in 1995. The following are the exhibition titles:
Island I(1995), Island II(1998), Excursion(2000), Addiction(2001),Nan I(2002)(Nanhas multiple meanings as orchid, subject I, a disturbance and adjective form of flying), Nan II(2003), Blue Island(2006), and Doubt(2008). The reason I am bringing up this brief story of his past exhibitions at this point is because I believe that it can suggest a crucial clue for reading this exhibition theme better. Plus when his unique drawing methods such as using ironing and mixed media coloring techniques have always been discussed by many people, the stories behind the images have been relatively overlooked, so by discussing it here, I think that we can finally put away such inconvenience caused by such one sided reading of his work.    
To him,
painting is like a mirror reflecting a long journey of his search for his identity in the world. In Island, a solo exhibition about his own studio, he considered himself an island isolated from the outside world, and depicted the isolated circumstances of the island. Further, he made his own very personal interpretation about the world on the canvas. This is indeed a very important starting point for the beginning of objective introspection, more precisely the current situation of the art world. And also, in the following solo exhibition, Excursion, he brought his isolation from the world to a stop and departed from the outside world. He finally began to search for a communication. This exhibition brought a change not only to the thematic approach but also in the formative aspect in his work. For instance, breaking from the ironing technique, which has drawn lots of attention from the audience, here he discovered a unique coloring technique that strengthened solidity and density in the picture. In his works around this time period, the images of the isolated island disappear. Instead there appear some images coming out of a gap between two spaces or icons that are inspired by newborn babies who just saw the light of the world for the first time in his pictures. All of these images imply his choice to come out to the world.
From the isolation from the world to the outing for communication, he finally begins his search of the world. His past solo exhibitions including
Addiction, Nan, Blue Island stay in line with this process. The world the artist observed, after his time of isolation is one where people are poisoned by their obsessive or addictive relations to one another. At first, under the theme of addiction, the artist suggested the process of his study of
 delicate relationships of feelings between people such as love, disbelief and revenge from a neutral stance. Furthermore, as a part of the process of his study of psychological states in a more objective and universalcircumstances, he depicted scenes of a large number of anonymous crowds inNan. And in that way,Blue Islandis like a phase of the conclusion of his view of the world.     
In other words, the world he
 has silently observed for a long time is described like a poison (the color blue is meant to signify poison). His works in this period employ a broad perspective, utilizing images from various motifs including athletic meets, the ocean, and masterpiece paintings. When looking at the works in this period, the world represented by Yang at least does not look so easily manageable. From an athletic meeting filled with competitiveness or surging the blue ocean that seems like it is swallowing up everything to all different kinds of human alliance spontaneously constructed by power or the death of an individual forgotten by peoples apathy, Yang conveyed images of the world from a certain distance. And by that deepening process of themes, theDoubtseries was born.

Drawing speculation at the end of the quest
Doubt. What Yang, Dae-Won chose after his search for the world was indeed a doubt about the world. Escaping from passive stance, he started to embrace the world as an individual responding to various circumstances and to actively speculate on it. In this way, the
Doubtseries reflects a form of speculation. Then what is the question of the artist who reached a conclusion inBlue Islandthat the world is like poison? In such a world, according to his understanding of it, he throws questions such as How have I been living?, Are the images of the people around me and myself true?, Are the circumstances and things around me also true?, and begins to speculate about the world through his pictures.
In fact, doubt appeared even in his earlier works as a fundamental part of their conceptual foundations. From the process of searching for his own identity as an artist
 to the process of his recent examination of society that he is currently engaged in, after all his doubt toward society and the world around him seem to be there. Nevertheless, I would say that this speculative process depicts a real portrait in time by following the pattern of thesis-antithesis-synthesis through the phases of seeking to know the self, then the society and finally entering a phase to question the position of the self in society.

Situations with doubts
 such a context as a background, Yang gropes for conversion in his perspectives, from broad perspectives to microscopic perspectives, in order to incorporate his thoughts about the world as an individual in the society. And here a doubt works as a concrete condition to find out about humans inborn psychology and attribute by narrowing the distance to the world. Most of doubtful situations he describes are made in the relationships with a lot of people in the society. Such diverse human relationships create systems of social structure such as customs, ethics and rules to sustain the relationships, and that becomes an interest of a doubt. For instance, inDoubt-Tears (Approval) 205080, there are people lining up at a presidential election vote, and amongst the crowd in ‘○’ shape line that implies the groups approval of the candidate, one round man is turning his head toward back crying. This man is depicted as his alter ego: it is an expression of a situation reflecting the subtle human psychology that one imperatively responds to the situation hiding his own thoughts.
In the meantime, for expressing situations with doubts, blue and red walls that construct a major pivot for a space division of the pictures are chosen as common motifs in this exhibition. This is a symbolism of a social system in disguise of perfection, common ideas required by society in the very fundamental form. In
Doubt-Red Wall 715080, a work that borrowed the structure of Leonardo DaVincis , Dongulin, an anonymous individual and at the same time a figure signifying the artist himself, is es+caping a high and solid red wall made of systems and gazes enforced by the society.
However, the look of the escaping figure is depicted as a figure that is still not able to thoroughly turn away from the social systems and common ideas. It is an image of an individual who attempted an escape from society but at the same time is afraid of total isolation from it, plus fear of a situation that might turn him back to the society someday: it is an image of a person who cannot be totally free from society.
Doubt-Red Wall 425080implicates a fix of a man in agony hanging a barrier in red wall. By choosing a vertical composition, the artist is describing a psychology of a human who is in an imminent situation of tension. 
An interesting thing is because such a system is also created by humans, the interest of
 doubt after all becomes an individual from the society, and that creates a situation to doubt each other, furthermore family members and eventually it becomes a situation where one doubts himself. This kind of content is represented in Doubt-Family 620170, where he painted the symbols of himself and his wife and son. And in Doubt-Red Wall 016080, we can find a self portrait of Yang depicting a situation of doubting himself.
Another motif appears in this exhibition is a forest image that reminds of Sansevieria leaves. The artist says that the system society requires has become too solid, most people forget about the value and purpose of life and are facing a difficult situation that restrains them from realizing their purposes and beliefs. Here the forest becomes an important place as a hideaway as seen in
Doubt-Forest038070. Dangling hid himself in the forest in order to get away from a society that faces a crisis of truth, and that speaks of a psychological state called doubt. If the island that he made a work with is a motif of his studio it he himself and has a connotation as a very isolated personal space, the forest seems to signify a psychological resting place where he can barely become confident with while still running away from irregularities, a mask that he wears to hide his real feelings. In a way, it is a self-justification.

Metaphors of doubt
Not only from
Situations with Doubts, can we find lots of other connotations of doubt in his pictures. At first, a tear is the most intensive way of emotional expression to show a form of doubt. And here the tears are represented as teary eyes than falling tears on cheeks. This delivers the meaning of sadness much more firmly in a sense. In the past, Yang expressed tears with cotton threads on the canvas, and now that became a unique formative expression in round shapes of Yangs art. Yet, the teary eyes dont just indicate the doubtful state of the characters. It is rather a metaphorical expression about peoples attributes, which he found through doubt. Sometimes there are times when we compromise with society, although we know that the exterior of society is actually false. That is what the artist is trying to portray: the image of a human who has to turn his head and swallow his tears while hiding his real mind. When the previous images were just wearing masks in order to hide their minds, here the images are represented with teary eyes in masks, which in the end fortify our curiosity about the inner psychological state of the person behind the mask. In addition to that, his figures are displayed as close-up images, which show the artists active intention to speculate the world in details. As if it was taken with zoom-in function of a camera, the doubting figures face is filled up in the picture. To speculate about the hidden truth, grasping the emotions of the characters became very crucial, and for that reason, probably close-up composition must have been chosen. Doubt-Tears Ⅴ 312080, Doubt-Tears Ⅵ 222080, Doubt-Tears Ⅶ 013080are the examples that display such an intention of the artist. On top of that, the special expression that he appropriated from the compositions of masterpiece paintings in his last solo exhibition became much stronger. In Blue Last Supper(Doubt) 135060, the artist applied linear perspectives. And the maximized special sense produced the situation in the picture, and by doing so he could achieve a special depth in the work. When previous pictures were focused on the depiction of the figures and composition of colors just like an architectural floor plan, this kind of attempt becomes a strengthening factor for the conveyance of them as well as the expansion of the space inside the picture. Moreover, although it is quite subtle, these works take an important role in bringing a change to the simple composition method of Yang. In that sense, Doubt-Tears (Blue Wall) 623080shows a dramatic tension by suggesting a diagonal blue wall with a figure facing back to back, and this kind of tension culminated inDoubt-Red Wall 036080. In the picture, the dandelions are hiding or running around while still not letting down their own guard. Such a scene is composed in a manner of linear perspectives: the bold expression of the distance between the front and the back figures draws the impending state inside the picture to the fullest.

Lastly we can see that all the exhibited works have red backgrounds, and with this they render very strong contrast in color combination. This gives salience to the figures in the works, and gives theatricality to the actions of the figures. And when considering that from the formal and thematic aspects, it distinguished his current styles from that of the past. It also supports the artists intention to contemplate about the world more actively, and moreover maintains the unity of the exhibition theme.

In this way, Yang tried to incorporate an image of a human attribute that he has to compromise with a poison like world, which lacks its truth. Here he depicted it as a doubt in four different forms such as Doubt-tears,Doubt-forest, Doubt-blue wall, Doubt-red wall. The artist has been working so hard to transfer his themes to the audience through his genuine paintings. In other words, he has been focusing to make artworks that are closely related to his themes and formats. As a person who has witnessed the changes in his works, it seems as though he finally acquired a freedom of formative expression suited to his theme by pushing himself in painting and deepening his thematic approaches. That is probably why I get more interested in the themes that he will be dealing with next time, rather than the meaning of Dongulin, cautious composition, density of the surface of the pictures, which are more popularly discussing aspects about his works so far.
The distinguished difference between Yang and other artists of his time can be found in the fact that his works form a clear identity with a pertinent combination of all the factors of paintings such as theme, composition and techniques. There are three points that support it: First, the artist
s existential aspect influenced the theme of a work on the society, which enables the psychological and sociological consideration about the work, and secondly by creating a figure with strong personality called Dongulin (round man), his work has formality, maintaining the simple and symbolic expression of abstract painting, and at last, he accomplished a unique technique based on his understanding of materials while maintaining the two dimensional aspect of painting. Such aspects continue to a merit that they enable multi perspective readings about the work. That is to say that Yang, Dae-Wons painting gives a pleasure of reading about contemporary art. Certainly his painting is far from those who just fell into mannerism and become technical paintings, or those who just mimics certain countries art trend without any sense of sovereignty, and in this way, his work should be seen as very distinct from the problematic tendencies in recent painting.  
After accomplishing his own firm artistic language through thorough endurance, he now acquired contemplative space to convey stories about the times. Indeed, true contemporary art that contains the spirit of the times can be born when the artist reflects his perspectives on the current of time and puts it into his work in formative method and define it. If you can agree with the definition of the artist as a person who silently goes with the changes of time, and naturally incorporates the images of the world as seen in the layers of his own experiences, Yang, Dae-Won is probably one of the most hardworking and sincere artists.
Once he mentioned that someday he would like to make a book with his work about the themes that he has been dealing with his solo exhibitions. When the book is about to be finished, we might be able to see the images of the world that reflects the full spectrum of the artist
s life. Wouldnt the result be just something that reflects the artists identity and existence?
In the end, the theme of
Doubtdoesn’tt look as though it is going to leave the artists mind for a while, because the world that he will
 continue to live with in silent tears will remain far from him.

Hwang, Jung-In (independent Curator)