Friday, October 7, 2011

Hyunmee Lee's "chunji-changjo" (heaven and earth)

The painting is signed LeeHyunmee, the artist's name in her native Korean. But Hyunmee is also an American and so the catalogue for the USU exhibition of the "Creation" paintings called her Hyunmee Lee. The difference in cultures and languages feels to me like a good metaphor for the differences between how Hyunmee describes her painting and how I receive it.

chunji-changjo is the Korean. "Heaven and earth" the English.

Living with the very large black-and-white painting for a couple of years now, I find my mind and my feelings tending away from heaven and earth and feeling their way toward consciousness and subconsciousness, toward what is simply/complexly the case and what human consciousness makes of that.

Frank McEntire, a fine sculptor himself, quotes Hyunmee in the exhibition catalogue to the effect that the Zen concept of "ch'i," the life force, is the life of her paintings.

I have as little personal sense for "ch'i" as I have for heaven. What I do have is an ongoing visceral response to the painting that has a powerful conceptual component.

It's a dark painting for me, especially when I'm gripped by melancholy (a richer word than depression). It weighs heavy on me, so much so that at times I can't stand to look at it. If I do look at it in that mood, I can sense my life slipping formlessly and helplessly down off the canvas.

At other times, however, in other moods, what I feel about the weight and direction of the blackness is tempered by the scratchings and markings and scrumblings (Frank's word) in the black and across the black and even aside from the black. They are the workings of the eye and the mind and the hand of a human being. They seem like attempts to find patterns, to understand forms, to create meaning out of chaos.

In these moods I look to the right of the painting and see what my mind's eye takes to be a "5." Or it could be a "b." Or it could be the accident of an artist's gesture with a brush and paint. In any case, I see it as a sign created to make sense of the inchoate, a letter or number with which to create meaning.

Okay, it's ambiguous, it's only partially clear, it may be an accident; but it's delicate, it has a light and thoughtful form, it is the antithesis of the heavy and sliding blackness.

And that's all I really need, a simple antithesis on whose structure I can stretch my emotional and rational self (I almost wrote "selves" -- "zwei Seelen wohnen, ach, in meiner Brust").

Heaven and earth. Consciousness and subconscious. Chaos and order. Whatever it is, it (usually) works for and in me.


Hi Scott,

How are you?  It's a wonderful news.  Just read your interesting writing and I enjoyed it. 

Just a short note about the gestures and black color in my work: 
The strong black gestures moving across the surface of large canvas was beginning of my "meditative gestures".   The large dark gestures are influenced by Taoism and Buddhism; the black unifies and bridges the harmony of energy (chi).  The black color is very special to me, for me black is much more than just feelings (and white is full as empty canvas.)  The black color is a window, it opens to the another world (far from a physical world), so my black is lighter than any other color.  Hope to enjoy the painting and you could move into a realm of progression of balance.

Thanks for the email!  We are doing great!!!  Say hi to Lyn!!,



thanks for your thoughts about your painting.

I'm intrigued by your idea of seeing the black as a window, as lighter than any other color. It reverses the polarity for me and just now, watching the motion of the black on the white, I could feel it lifting and rising like a balloon.

Why not, indeed, see the white as "full as empty canvas" and all the various black markings as the signs created by a hopeful and thoughtful artist.

I'll never see it as you can, of course. I'm just not equipped to do so. But to live with the painting and to see it and feel it and to think about it like I'm doing now will make it a fine companion for the coming years.

Been thinking a lot lately about aging, especially in conversations with Alex and Sam. Health and sickness. The inevitable winding down -- entropy is in fact the law. But until it all goes black (or white), there's still the back and forth out of which we fashion our lives. That's the ongoing power your painting has for me, Hyunmee, the interplay, the dialectic, the bridging, the tension out of which life proceeds.


The comment by the flowerville blogger has reinforced my sense for how important this work of art (any work of art) is as it raises questions and stimulates the desire to work them out.

This morning I looked more closely at the white paint Hyunmee starts with. In my mind it was just white, just a background for the black. But when you really look at it, the white is as thick and rich and marked as the black.

It makes me think of Zarko's friend Julije Knifer, about his paintings that began with multiple layers of white, layer after obsessive layer of white, putting off the moment he feared, when black would enter the picture. Here a couple of photos from Zarko's experimental book called "Knifer" that show the painter before unfinished canvases.
photos of julije knifer at work, by zarko radakovic

And then I think of snow and the marking that comes from our entering that uniform covering of the familiar.

Finally, another Knifer meander and a link to an earlier conversation about Knifer which, surprisingly (or not) also involved depression:


michael morrow said... fullness..hhmm..aging...balance...guard back living...expressing....capture embrace to release....movement through space feeds....somehow it makes

* said...

it's interesting, i have a black picture like that too, only not as big, but it spooked me so i put it away.
then i thought the one good thing apartr from many others that comes out of it, the looking at art, thinking about art are those conversations that you put here and the way one tries to understand and fails and finds other way -- which all seems to be to me soemtimes the actual gift of art and not so much the picture (although that too is a gift)that is still there, looking at us and nourishing the closeness of the mystery of it all...

Scott Abbott said...

I love the way Hyunmee's thoughts have made me see the black (although it will still weigh on me at times, even spook me, to use your word, given my first responses) as a way out of the expanse of white.

michael morrow said...

maybe some day I will afford myself an objective idea...took 63 years such a possibility thought even existed

* said...

i am sorry i am late with replying
i thought particularly about the black and why it is sometimes spooky and sometimes not, soulages never ever spooked me, but his black to me is rather comforting, even soothing and not melancholy inducing. this one does spook a bit but also a bit not. it;s interesting how black is black but has different qualities to it that, like the texture and that the background, in your picture, is just as deep. it's more a landscape really at least that's how it feels to me.