A playground of interpretation
Born and based in
Because of his use of pop language and materials and Dongguri’s flexible application to commercial markets, Kwon’s art has often been classified as Neo-Pop.1 This classification, however, does not seem to adequately describe Kwon’s work. Instead, more emphasis should be placed on the range of meanings and emotions Dongguri conveys, forging a link between artist and audience.
Certainly, Kwon’s art is not all about Dongguri and extends beyond his often used and much admired symbol. He has continuously created innovative designs, marrying ultra-modern elements with old traditions. He draws on tradition as a means of expressing modern sensitivity, a feature found in his most recent paintings. Kwon’s reinvention of classical Korean motifs might be a natural extension of his study of traditional Korean art, but it is also interesting that his works contain coded messages hidden in layers beneath the surface of the art itself.
The artist’s favourite motifs, such as plum blossoms, orchids, chrysanthemum and bamboo are drawn from traditional sumi painting. These four plants, fundamental artistic motifs in sumi painting, are also symbolic representations of a scholarly life and of literati culture.2 Each represents one of the four seasons: plum blossom for spring, orchid for summer, chrysanthemum for autumn and bamboo for winter. Like the sumi painters, Kwon uses these motifs as symbols, however, his paintings may be better described in terms of traditional sansui (landscape) painting. Rather than copying nature, sansui painters use form and technique to express their own concept of it. For them, the transcendent values of nature and the universe are not to be conquered but are an innate attitude, the order and reason of which should be studied and followed. Sansui painters express transcendent values by forgoing a visual imitation of what is seen as reality, seeking meanings in the unseen world. Sansui is, therefore, more than a technique; it is a symbol, a paradigm and a fundamental concept.
Kwon’s recent paintings reflect his continuing use of Korean traditions; in particular, the symbolism of sansui. In
Another traditional motif is transformed in Kwon’s In the fountain 2006. Here, the water fountains symbolise a variety of orchid shapes. Although the lines appear simple and free-flowing, they are actually positioned according to the strict conventions of the traditional sansui style. Rippling water, a recurring theme in the artist’s work, also recalls a common theme in Asian culture — radiating energy.
Untitled 2005–6, is particularly interesting because Dongguri, who appears in most of Kwon’s work, is gone. Only plum blossoms and ripples remain.
The video animation,
Through his work, Kwon Ki-soo continually explores traditional themes and values, which he adapts and incorporates into contemporary art forms. His art is characterised by a creative grafting of past spiritualism onto contemporary materialism, moulded into symbols and icons. Through multiple layers of symbolism and meaning, Kwon offers viewers a playful interpretation of a world where lightness and heaviness can coexist.
Kim Sun-hee is Art Director of
1.Neo-Pop, a movement of the 1980s, is characterised by popular iconography and applies mass media communication techniques to ‘package’ complex ideas for a wider audience.
2.The literati were the intellectual elite in