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Ki Beom KWON

Ki Beom KWON, Kumho Museum of Art


1972, Seoul


Painting, Installation



Jumble Painting 09-Gravity TF, 2009

Wall painting installation view, 370×1500×700cm

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The Conceptual Substance of Nature, and the Inertia/Flow of Consciousness

In general, there has been a continuum in Ki Beom Kwon’s work from the Glass Flower series (2004), to the Crash (2006) and Jumble Painting series (2007), and finally on to his most recent paintings titled, Ambiguity (2008-present). This string of themes not only reveals the distinct characteristics of each phase in the evolution of the artist’s work, but also allows us to reconstruct the conceptual and physiological phenomena that flow through the full spectrum of his projects. For example, Kwon contrasts glass with flora in the Glass Flower series. This comparison is then expanded and reproduced as a contrast between geometric and organic forms, artificiality and nature, the urban and natural environments, and civilization and nature. That is, he adopted the notion of conflicting polarities as a tool to understand and explain, reproduce and express the way the world exists. These contrasting binary concepts collide with one another in his subsequent project titled, Crash, and finally fuse into a whole in the Jumble Painting series. The term “jumble” conveys two competing meanings: reconciliation and chaos. The artist recognized that the differing connotations of the term in fact stem from the same root, and the term is also reference to the painter’s personal experience of conceptual chaos. The recognition of the fusion and chaos of contrasting essences, triggered in the Jumble Painting series, serves as actual nourishment for Kwon’s most recent project, the Ambiguity series. Distinct from his earlier works that were driven by a perception of contrasts, comparisons and division, his recent projects have been bulwarked by an awareness of chaos, fusion, and organic consilience. Indeed, while it may be quite simple to use the concept of polar conflict as a tool with which to understand or explain the world, such understandings or explanations in most cases tend to be fragmentary and mono-dimensional. In contrast, the user may become confused when employing the concept of consilience as a tool to approach the world, because he is confronted by a chaos that encompasses all points of competing essences. Overall, it appears that Kwon has passed beyond the phase where he could easily explain the condition of the world (to be specific, there is no method that allows one to explain the world without difficulty, and even if such techniques existed, they would most likely be dubious), and now finds himself faced with an explanatory method that is more chaotic, complex and multi-tiered.

The Glass Flower
Series For this series, Kwon transposes in the same space an image of broken glass with the shape of a flower. The image of broken glass was created by drawing (with a ruler) colorful geometric squares, while that of the flower was depicted in organic lines. (Specifically it was created by producing a monochromatic line drawing of an orchid, one of the four noble plants. After saturating multiple layers of traditional Korean paper with ink, the artist placed an additional paper on top and outlined an orchid with his fingernail, resulting in the ink underneath seeping through and forming the shape of the flower). In this series of paintings, Kwon, rather than reproducing specific, identifiable flowers, depicts the essence of the concept generally represented by flowers. This remains in line with his 2004 thesis Imagery Expression Using the Shape of Flowers. The flowers themselves are not an object per se, but a vehicle to project and express the artist’s ideas, which are then in turn presented as self-awareness of the meaninglessness of life. For instance, the concept of a glass flower (or the surreal union of glass and flowers) brings to mind a traditional vanitas still life. As has been widely noted, containers made of glass in vanitas paintings caution against vanity that is alluring and glamorous yet as fragile as glass. It may be that with the Glass Flower series the artist is striving to warn us of the meaninglessness of sensual beauty, like that of alluring flowers.

The Crash Series
Kwon worked in China following his artist’s residency in 2005 with the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea. This experience served as an opportunity for him to expand the scope of his works from two dimensions into video and installation. For the Crash series, the artist records the landscape of a Chinese downtown and its suburbs, and edits the videos. By contrasting images, he presents the communication issues (or culture shock) arising between different cultural subjects and seeks to find a point where the conflicting concepts converge. In addition, based upon the notion of contrasts introduced in his earlier works, he expresses interest in the relationship between two competing terms. For example, Kwon compares nature with artificiality, the natural environment or natural state with the city or civilization, continuity (representing the fundamentals of nature based on its own organic flow) with discontinuity (representing the fundamentals of a highly civilized city), and static settings with dynamic ones. Overlapping or juxtaposing opposing images within the same scene appears to be a decisive code governing all of his projects, something that is both maximized and standardized in the Crash series. Another interesting observation is that the artist attempts a type of kinetic art, evocative of the four noble plants, in his video works on nature. The harmonious scene of rippling water and drooping willow branches intimates the organic flow of nature and conveys the emotive concept of hushed motion. It could be said that Kwon is expressing the dignity, elegance and lyricism of the four noble plants through his video grammar.

The Jumble Painting Series
Kwon has long viewed nature as a subject for abstraction rather than representation; he consequently pays attention to naturalness?the physical and conceptual phenomenon that can be considered to be the essence of nature. Through this process, what he finds is gravity. In other words, to the artist gravity indicates the unique quality of nature that he comes across in the natural environment, and in this way he demonstrates his determination to focus his projects on the laws and principles of nature. Given that gravity is both a law and principle of nature, it grows increasingly likely that the process through which he invites the concept into his works becomes open to coincidences such as unexpected effects. However, coincidence itself is not a completely unintentional phenomenon, but approaches a kind of conscious, arranged happenstance. For example, Kwon expresses gravity by means of traces of paint that he allows to roll down the painting and dry. These accidental traces, which are a result of repeatedly dripping and spreading paint on the surface, form multiple layers, creating a painting structured on multiple levels. Kwon also diversifies the line, which he regards as a basic form from traditional ink-and-wash paintings, and introduces gravity into this process, together with the essential nature of coincidence. He drafts enlarged images of a cluster of naturally-tangled elastic strings?equivalent to a bundle of overlapping lines?on a wall, or places them dangling from the top of a wall or alternatively pulls strings taught and fixes them within a space. Over time, the installed strings lose their elasticity and begin to droop, actualizing the influence of gravity. By harnessing a natural phenomenon (gravity) for his work, Kwon attempts to reinterpret the expressive techniques (brush) from a traditional ink wash painting while expanding the method into his wall drawings and installations.

The Ambiguity Series
In the Ambiguity paintings, Kwon creates a solitary, full figure by piecing together fragments of images. He reconstructs both organic forms such as the human body and images of objects including guns, high-heeled shoes and stars in the sky. Behind the work lies an awareness of unforeseen encounters or unlikely combinations?a context similar to the surrealist’s vision. In this manner, Kwon reminds us that the full figure does not automatically revert to an aggregation of its parts. Despite this discrepancy, however, he reorganizes a unitary, complete form by corralling the fragmentary images, or he simply arranges the fragments of heterogeneous images in a random sequence. He slices the images and figures out of contact paper and then reconstructs them on a wall in an installation, or draws them directly on the wall. The partial images presented in silhouette are at times recognizable, such as female breasts or hands, but are mainly abstract and allusive. Depending on the point of view, the figures appear like prehistoric cave art and hieroglyphics. Although they are actually fragmented images of the human body and organs, they appear like abstract symbols because they are independently displayed after being excised from the organic context of the whole (Usually, perception relies on knowledge of the organic relationship between the whole and its parts, and the self and others, but once inertia has been left behind, they lose their nature as specific objects and become read as abstract symbols). Kwon exercises a variation on this series of paintings into wall drawings and tableau paintings. In particular, in his tableau works, as fragments of images overlap, they gradually fade away below the surface, leaving behind only minimal and allusive images. As silhouette and silhouette, figure and figure overlap, details are erased, all of which can be regarded as a process whereby figures are disassembled and then reconstructed on a flat surface. This monochromatic image highlighting planarity provides an impression that the tendencies of minimalism and pop art have been fused, offering a glimpse into the artist’s holistic view or methodology. Furthermore, in certain paintings, Kwon mixes pigments with actual extracts from the human body, such as his own blood or ashes obtained from cremating his late grandmother’s possessions. Such an act may be dismissed as a symbolic gesture, but it at least deserves to be treated as an expression of his self-awareness, as inspired by his interest in the human body and the ontological conditions of humanity. The artist subtitles the works in this series as “collection,” suggesting that he likely collects and reassembles pieces of either conscious or unconscious imagination. The pieces appear as images stemming from an undefined and variable set of values (or epistemological framework). The series seems to have impelled the artist to shift his focus away from naturalness (or the essence of nature) and once again towards the human ontological condition and psyche. As a result, it appears that his awareness of ambiguous figures is growing ever sharper; such intensity is likely to come into full bloom in a series of pencil drawings subsequent to these tableau paintings. These familiar yet alien, organic yet delicate images?like stream of consciousness or free association, which are remarkably uninhibited in the flow and expression of thought while freely interacting and combining with one another in an unpredictable way?suggest of a framework that will be somewhat different from what has come before.

Chung-Hwan KHO(Art critic)


Ki Beom Kwon’s World of Art

According to Kibeom Kwon, the code that marks our time is ambiguity. Many of his recently produced and exhibited works include the word “ambiguity” in their titles, and three of his solo exhibitions have had the same subtitle: Construction of the Ambiguous Form. In his early works, he painted flowers in an Oriental style, exploring the essence of nature. Then he moved on to video works, where he first investigated conflicts between nature and civilization, before becoming most interested in new cultural situations arising from collapsing borders. “Construction” is another important concept for Kwon, indicating his ambition to gather and assemble all the confusion he faces today within the field of his artistic works. From a very young age, Kwon was trained in Oriental painting, and his earliest works are traditional Oriental paintings. As such, he has always been deeply concerned with capturing the essence of his artistic subjects. But what essence can he possibly derive from a situation where every value is marked by ambiguity? Although the practice of essentialism self-evidently assumes that essence exists a priori, essence is actually constructed anew every moment. Such self-awareness serves as the criteria to divide contemporary art from traditional art. Contemporary artists are attentive to this constant renewal, and they utilize it as a basic strategy for restarting from themselves when the standard of every value becomes obscure. In Kwon’s case, the urge to know what was inside him resulted in his artistic shift towards spontaneously generated drawings. Drawing is an appropriate method for an artist to express and confront ambiguity, since a pencil-and-brush drawing is complete only after repeated sketches and erasures.

Among Kwon’s more recent works, the representative image of a hybrid identity is a painting inspired by the photo of a German-Japanese model that he found in a magazine. He mingled and mixed various shapes and figures around the back of someone’s head, resulting in a tangled swarm of (sub)conscious fragments and indefinable figures, as if we are seeing through a person’s psyche. While creating the image, Kwon applied a process of combination that is identical to the process the viewer undergoes while observing and interpreting the work. Any previous notions of causality are dissolved in the mental miasma inside the head, where perception and memory are irreparably entangled.

Along with his drawings, Kwon’s other major project is wall painting. In 2007, he started a wall painting project called Jumble Painting at the Youngeun Museum of Contemporary Art, and he continues to present this project along with his other works at every exhibition. The wall painting project represents not the style, but the principle of Oriental painting. In addition, it represents not the appearance, but the substance of nature, just as he sought to capture the energy of nature in an earlier video work of the wind-blown leaves of willows and bamboos. The process of Oriental painting involves painting with a brush on a paper that is placed on the floor; thus, it inherently implies the principle of nature flowing from up to down. To create his wall paintings, Kwon randomly tosses a bunch of rubber bands on the floor, and then takes photos of them. The digital photos go through various revisions of pasting and erasing via Photoshop, until they become a new image. Finally, he draws this new image onto walls, allowing the patterns and shapes created by natural forces like gravity and tension to unfold on a large scale. By expanding the linear or curvilinear elements to such a massive scale, he constructs imagery that is both powerful and dynamic. With this strong style of expression, ambiguity is no longer confined to simply being initial confusion.

Sun Young LEE (Art Critic)