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Entering Terra Incognita: Kim Young-Hun’s Paintings at Galerie Richard (Paris)

p1909, Electronic Nostalgia. 152.5 x 92 cm, oil on linen, 2019.

Kim Young-Hun: Electronic Nostalgia

Galerie Richard Paris

November 16 - December 21, 2019

By SIBA KUMAR DAS, November 2019

Growing up in Nonsan, South Korea, Kim Young-Hun swam in reveries inspired by comic books. When ten years old, he dreamed of being a scientist and painter. Now a painter, science still fascinates him.  

Were you to take a monochromatic light source and shine a beam on a screen containing two slits such that some of the light will cross the slits and reach a second screen, you would find on the latter a pattern of fringes caused by interference between the light waves reaching their second destination. If you extended this experiment through different versions, you would delve more deeply into quantum mechanics---a scientific domain that is enigmatic yet critical to our current understanding of the world. But we don’t need to go that far this time. Let’s just note the patterns of fringes that emanate from light, for it is these patterns that reverberate through Kim’s artistic imagination. 

Now think of traditional Korean landscape painting, which gave prominence to mountains. Mountainous terrain became real on painting scrolls via bands of tonalities, each bordered by subtle, allusive fringes. This great tradition underpins Kim’s twenty-first century paintings.  

Before studying art in London, where he took an M.F.A. from University of Arts London, Kim was a B.F.A. student in Hongik University, Seoul. While in Seoul, he was a studio assistant to Yun Hyong-keun, the Dansaekhwa painter. Kim told me, “My heart responded to this great artist’s work, but in my mind I thought I should look for something new.” Through his current Electronic Nostalgia paintings he may have found his terra incognita. 

That Galerie Richard in Paris is having a show of Kim’s latest paintings, from 16 November-21 December 2019 (as a follow-on to an earlier 2019 show at its New York space) is appropriate for two reasons. In the 1970s and 1980s, France took the lead among Western countries in promoting Korean modernism. Paris was also home to a pre-Second World War art movement called Dimensionism that brought together the principal European artists of the 1930s, who wanted to participate artistically in the Age of Einstein. Though the War and the subsequent Iron Curtain in Europe aborted the movement, its manifesto lived to spread its influence after the War. Kim was not directly influenced by Dimensionism, yet a remarkable congruence connects its aims to his science-inflected art.

p1912, Electronic Nostalgia. 91 x 122cm, oil on linen, 2019.

Regard two paintings of Kim’s that are part of the Galerie Richard exhibit---both belonging to his Electronic Nostalgia series: p1912, and p1909. They display a transformational command of color within a muted palette. Consider also Kim’s artistry when he intersperses the paintings’ rhythmic wave-like bands with rectilinear blocks of bold color, some permeated by subdued modification. The paintings’ imagery allude to landscape, inclusive of the natural world’s wave-like phenomena, whether at the cosmic level or in the sub-atomic world. Within this geography the rectilinear blocks seem to have a distinctive role: they incarnate an idea of landscape—its very soul, if you like. 

Notice, too, in the paintings the effect of Kim’s hand slightly trembling as he applies paint following the model of Hyukpil, the traditional Korean painting technique. He confirms what Maurice Merleau-Ponty references when he concurs with Paul Valery’s remark that the painter ‘takes his body with him’. Merleau-Ponty cannot also “imagine how a mind could paint.” Kim’s paintings are embodied things that reveal art’s magic: they transfigure the world, giving it a sense of order that is not independent of his art. This may seem paradoxical, but isn’t it analogous to what happens in quantum theory, wherein the observer affects the observed reality through the very act of watching? 

In his book Art and Physics, Leonard Shlain sees these two eponymous fields of human endeavor as an integrated duality. Keep that in mind as you contemplate Kim’s art. WM 

Siba Kumar Das

Siba Kumar Das is a former United Nations official who writes about art. He served the U.N. Development Program in New York and several developing countries. He now lives in the U.S., splitting his time between New York City and upstate New York. He has published articles on artists living in the Upper Delaware Valley, and is presently focusing on art more globally. Recent articles have appeared in dArt International, Arte Fuse, and Artdaily.com. 

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