2017.02.09 ~ 02.25< Suh Yongsun : Crossing Worlds>
Art Mora, NY
Curator / Corina L. Apostol
Art can be a journey that takes us to different, unknown worlds, or sheds new light on worlds that are familiar. The exhibition ‘Crossing Worlds’ focuses on recent works by the renowned South Korean artist Suh Yongsun , taking the viewer on a sensory and intellectual journey beyond the borders of their personal universe. Representing revealing moments of political life in his home country, as well as engaging with the hustle and bustle of everyday life during his trip to the United States, the artist takes us on different and unexpected paths in art and in life. These journeys bring us into play as we experience the many layers of Suh’s works, inviting us to consider the relationship between the subject matter represented and directness of the artist’s approach. The power of his art is revealed in our meetings with the works, compelling us to go further in the journey, past our familiar points of reference.
Suh’s art is socially engaged in the sense that it brings into focus communities both in his native South Korea and abroad, either influencing or being influenced by it. Some of the artist’s works speak more directly to concerns relating to human rights, corruption and the distribution of power. For example the large-scale ‘December 2016 in Seoul’ (2016) comments on the protests that erupted as a result of president Park Geun-hye’s undisclosed connections to a trusted advisor, revealed to have given her secret councils. The demonstrations, which began in October 2016, were attended by millions of people in the country’s capital and are considered to be the largest in its history. The artist considers these events of great importance in the course of his country’s development, representing the protests and the different social factions involved on a monumental, historical scale and noting the dates when they occurred. The foreground and background of the painting collapse into each other, bringing together ordinary men and woman, security forces, politicians, monuments and architecture. Each group is painted in vibrant colors that complement and contrast each other. Suh’s style is a unique melange of abstract and figurative art, moving between realism and abstract expressionism. Bold, thick brushstrokes structure the composition along dynamic lines, conveying both a sense of movement of the crowds and the structured urban environment.
The painting reveals a Seoul both steeped in tradition, with iconic monuments, traditional architecture and landscape, and on the verge of change symbolized by the gesturing crowds and modern buildings. At once familiar and of a distance place the scene brings us in as witnesses to an event with important consequences for the future of the country and beyond. Three related works ‘Countermeasure meeting,’ (2016) ‘Candle I’ (2016) and ‘Candle II’ (2016) give further visual elaborations of the conflict between the people protesting the president, and the officials and police. They refer to actual events that occurred during the demonstrations, for example the moment when people holding candles marched through central Seoul late into the night in November.
While in these works Suh explores his complex relationship with his native South Korea, which underpins much other his practice, other works engage with issues including cultural identity and contemporary urban life. Two recent works, ‘Woman I(Red)’ (2016) and ‘Woman II(Green),’ juxtapose bold silhouettes in primary colors on paper taken from a local supermarket, from his visit to the United States. Suh’s characters are archetypal, painted in broad, bare strokes that convey the fleeting nature of events and people crossing through space. While his style syntheses elements of Fauvism, Expressionism and traditional Korean styles, Suh grounds his works in the contemporary moment, using materials from every-day life that break the divide between the fine and popular arts. Aside from the obvious reference to consumer culture, using advertising paper as a support for his painting creates a jarring effect, as there is no illusion of depth of space to focus our viewing of the work. The artist is not interested in revealing individualizing features in these works, rather the women represented appear expressionless and doll-like, alluding to the crowds of strangers we brush past daily in the city.
At the same time, some of Suh’s works are rich in autobiographical references, and traces of personal memories and experiences. In particular, self-portraits have been a constant theme in Suh’s work. Since the beginning of his artistic career, the artist has drawn himself both in his home country and during his travels. His features and expressions have evolved through his journey, conveying different emotions and states of mind. The artist dates his portraits diligently, so they appear as consecutive entries in a visual diary that he shares with the viewer. Complementary, saturated colors and defining brushstrokes give a glimpse into the Suh’s thought process. His complex technique incorporates elements of abstraction and realism, however, his self-portraits include considerably more details than other characters in his works. This strategy draws the viewer’s attention to Suh’s piercing gaze, inviting us into a more personal dialogue with the artist himself.
Suh inserts the experience of every-day people, the complex visual landscape of the city, and contemporary social strifes and triumphs into his paintings, expressing his belief in the connections between art and social reality. Fusing together elements of realism and abstraction in his unconventional approach to art, the artist stimulates our imagination by taking us on a journey to distant and familiar places and historical moments.