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Feeling shadowy – Sungkyung Lee’s solo exhibition

After seeing the artist, Sungkyung Lee’s artworks and wondering about the difference between drawing and painting, and how they are understood in Eastern and Western art, I looked up the definition of the two. Drawing is a form of visual art in which a person uses various drawing instruments to mark paper or another two-dimensional medium. Instruments include graphite pencils, pen and ink, inked brushes, wax, color pencils, crayons, charcoal, chalk, pastels, various kinds of erasers, markers, styluses, various metals (such as silverpoint) and electronic drawing. Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a solid surface (support base). The medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush, but other implements, such as knives, sponges, and airbrushes, can be used.

Traditional drawings were monochrome, or had little color. Painting is a mode of creative expression that has numerous forms including drawing, but also gesture, composition, narration, and abstraction. However, they are not different, viewed from the aspect that they are made with a dot or a line as the first action. A lot of people have different opinions about how a form is made on a two-dimensional surface, but both line and color are elements that determine a form in a drawing or a painting. The important thing is that drawing is one of the oldest forms of human expression, preceding that of written communication. It was a means of communication before the invention of the written language. Known as pictograms, the production of cave and rock paintings around 30,000 years ago depicted objects and abstract concepts, in which we find similarities to modern abstract paintings. Indeed, drawing is the strongest language that we use to express ourselves.

A work of art is made as a way of expressing an artist’s inner self. What does Sungkyung Lee want to express through her work of art? A lot of artists have different attitudes and approaches towards making art, but most viewers will agree that, for her, making art is a way of expressing her emotion. An article about a group exhibition that she participated in recently says:

Through her work of art made with charcoal on a traditional Korean paper, Hanji, Sungkyung Lee expresses a jumble of emotions in depth, such as grief, fear, doubt, exhaustion, panic, confusion, shock, and joy, reflecting a lot of moments of her life.

Many artists that I know say that, while drawing, they feel as if they are meditating on the teaching of Taoism, becoming one with the universe where the material and spiritual world are not separate. Looking at their completed painting, they feel detached from it, as if looking back at the small universe of the painting that once was their alter ego. A grove of dark blue trees, patches of white light illuminating a faint middle tone and brightly colored little marks in her painting remind me of the American artist, Cy Twombly. His paintings were often freely-scribbled, calligraphic and graffiti-like works on solid fields of mostly gray, tan, or off-white colors. Drawing as if possessed, she makes gestures naturally in sheer joy and excitement, repeatedly leaving smudge marks with a charcoal on the surface of the hanji. What does she think while working on her painting? What does she think while finishing her painting after sparing no effort to search through an illustrated plant book to make a painting of her own flower or take lots of pictures of a mysterious-looking tree that she wanted to paint? Maybe the title of her work, ‘Feeling shadowy’, is about a moment of being enraptured completely by her painting. A moment where she forgets about what she draws and doesn’t care if it is a tree or flower. For her, the shadow of the tree in her painting becomes one with the tree itself after the jumble of her emotions is reflected in it.

Her artwork reflects one of Eastern ideas that the solid and the void are not different. With a charcoal, a medium that makes her walk into her painting, she fills the blank until the image of herself is reflected on the surface of her paper and creates her own small universe like a black-and-white film. Ironically, she purifies herself and shows us the beauty of negative space in Orientalism by making layers of black lines repeatedly. Imagining the world turning into the pure black that absorbs all colors of the world and blurs the boundary between the subject and the shadow, she has an encounter with herself in her painting. It is the moment of being truly one with the universe where there is no passage of time like the two main characters of a black-and-white film, ‘Down by law’, saying, “It’s a sad and beautiful world.”

- Artist, Yoonkyung Kim

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