Plate No. 16
Mixed Media on Korean Paper
Nothing can restrict Fine Art no rules painting
on artistic work of Hwang, Chang-Bae
By Seo, Sung-Rok, art critic
I remember that in 1989 I was searching for references about "disassembly" in genre, While surveying various books and articles, I happened to come across a certain oriental artist's comment, "Flour can be used not only for bread but for noodles or dumplings as well." The comment was that of none other than Hwnag Chang-Bae. Until now I remember his words because they are not only very amusing but also agreeable and stimmulating. I understood the words to refer to the necessity of some flexibility in our Korean painting field and the inevitability of adopting new ideas.
Although my memory of it is somewhat unclear, I remember he also mentioned something which can be summarized as follows; "How silly it is to force someone who wants to learn photography not to use color film but to use only black and white film!" This comment contains two points. First, it expresses the appropriateness of using color. Also, it criticizes the old criteria of Oriental Painting itself and the tendency to merely follow the tradition and delusion of it. Anyway, my impression on Hwang had been very strong which was deepened when I ascertained his creativity and uniqueness in his pursuit of color painting. His paintings always remind me of certain critic's remark which reads. "It is high time for Oriental Painting to leave its hermitage in the mountain." For instance, landscape or flowers and birds painting which prevailed in Agricultural Periods should be born again with "Brave reformation" and "Reflection of spirit of the times" in the age of industrial society and commercial capitalism. We can't afford to ignore this need any longer. And in Hwang's work, we realize that our anticipation of this is being satisfactorily fulfilled.
With some passive view, we may say that Hwang's work impresses us as an attempt "to make a stain" on our fixed concept about Oriental Paintings. He has tried enthusiastically to reform orthodox pictorial standards in Oriental Paintings. In his work, it's not only difficult to find landscapes, portrait, flowers and birds, but it is even difficult to identify the "steel wall" of the unrealistic ideal world itself. Hwang's art world show uniqueness in gis revarnishing, drifting, using mixed matter, disassembling, and even freely using hands and knife in addition to brushes. "To ignore tradition" like this doesn't just reflect a mere resisting character or negative attitude. As there is a saying that "Various ways is no way," there are no fixed principles or fundamental truths in Art.
Existing principles and truths need to be retrimmed with artistic creativity and independence. To learn tradition means to find something new in it, not just to worship it blindly. Paradoxically, canons of painting enable artists to find something new. This can be shown in gis following remark. When I studied Chinese character as a child, even by only looking at eight patterns of writing 'Young', and the single character 'Il' I could realize what great variety of calligraphic styles such as those of Wang-Hee-ji and An Jin-Kyoung exists. When I thought about this, I reached the conclusion that there are no fixed principles in Art. further, I came to patternize those various and changeable ｅxpressions
(Discussion between Hwang Chang-Bae and Park Nam-Kul Monthly Oriental Paintings)
Hwang's motto can be read that, "there are no rules in Art." These words contain a trap however. He doesn't mean that "every performance can be art." which would represent a kind of creative anarchism or agnoticism. Hwang means that art should not restricted by tradition but the artist should build his own artistic world order. In the situation following the tradition 'artists' responsibility can be a little more light. But in "No rules in Art" 'the artists' own existential burden becomes extremely heavy, Thus, Hwang Chang-Bae's attempt to create indivisual mythology can be compared to the situation of a woman with pangs of childbirth.
Everyone will agree that art is to create something new. But in reality, for this artist it's not a simple matter because it means to challenge both tradition and the present at the same time. In a special situation of Korean fine art field where the dichotomy between Oriental and Western painting has been vividly existing and where Korean and international characteristics have coexisted, this artist must have been suffered from anguish in setting up his own direction. Since Hwang's major is Oriental Painting, his burden in this respect is probably heavier.
Hwang's real artistic worth exists in his reformative attitude. He is a good model showing the success of overcoming the dichotomies between Oriental and Western Painting, and between Korean and international characteristics. Therefore, it will be very interesting to show how his works reveal the process and marks of his accomplishment. Hwang's artistic development can be divided into three periods.
The first is from 1981 to 1987. In this period, he was absorbed in narrative factors so he tried to apply narrative form to his art. He succeeded to figurize "Korean Mentality in Unconsciousness"(Honggai).
In other words, he figurized Korean common people's typical mentality.
The second period is from 1988 to 1989. In private shows in Dongsanbang Gallery and Sun Gallery, he tried to stress color itself. His work represented Orphism which shows pure color abstract so he performed to make a certain, clearness or transparency of primary colors and contrast. But there was also soft and naive atmospheres in his canvas by which he could escape from the trap of formalism. His series in those periods proved sufficiently his unceasing artistic efforts. Gradually, he simplified the concrete figures, patternized leaves and simplified houses. And then he emphasized the effect of brush stroking itself to come near "Immanence of plane". "Formative Necessity of Plasticity."
In Hwang's third period his styles are more varied and the introspection of his ｅxpression is more serious. There characteristics appear in his contemporary works which could be found at a private show at Carlo Grossetti Gallery, Milan in 1990 and at Duson Gallery and Gallery Sangmundang this year.
Now, "Flour can be used not only for bread but for noodles or dumplings" is being accelerated. Since the Milan exhibition there is a change of dimension in his work. He piles up patches of color with rough brush strokes or, oppositely, preserves the punity of the canvas by covering entirely with black monochrome. There is some transition in his artistic attitude concerning space coming down the horizon. For example, the narrative mode is transformed into symbolic systemizations of letter or animals(dogs, fowls, horses). Probably his preferred motifs are animals rather than noble letters. But it doesn't mean that the motifs themselves are important. But the primitivity, brutality, or free nature represented by those motifs are really the essence of his art.
Through this attempt, he succeeds in expressing his inner creativity. This attitude development can be compared to the acceleration of an automobile which occurs only after operating the engine. "Artistic work can come out of the formative experience of artists. This means that a former work is the just another creativeinput for the next work. So the next artistic work should be started quickly before the extinction of the passionate energy which came from the first one. This kind of energy is never reduced by use but becomes more affluent and powerful like a rolling snowball.
(Hwang, Chang-Bae, "Toward Amplification of Message and ｅxpression" Gana-Art March. April, 1990)
Magnificent power and rapidity is prevailing in Hwang's recent work. All images in his canvas appear with some weight. (He mostly deals a single motif in each of his paintings) And his brush stroking creates inertial speed on canvas. Dark color tone disappears, Instead, tough and significant coloring comes out. We can't also ignore the variety of motifs. He simplified our traditional houses and even elephants, wild horses, bulls, human body, apples and fishes. The range of motifs is very broad.
Why does he deal with so many objects in his art? Is it simply his drive for motifs or for style? If he is so concentrated on artistic form, what's his real message to express? I guess the answer to this question is only known to Hwang so it will remain a subject of our speculation. Not all kinds of motifs always represent some meaningful message. So we'd better turn our eyes to ｅxpression itself because sometimes figurization has less persuasive power than ｅxpression itself. In fact, for Hwang, the world of objects is a necessary condition but not a sufficient condition. He even tries to disassemble the objects to pull out real meaning or worth from them.
So it's very natural for him to try the technical methods like analytic disassembly transfiguration. For instance, the figure of a wild horse changed into a wooden horse mechanically, the human body is diassembled into an ugly educational specimen, and traditional houses are damaged by optional lines. Sometimes we can consider this trend as resistence against a certain meaning, but we can't say that style is the best way to express an artist's own desire.
If he removes the original figure of things, there still remains their own images with the artist's personal recognition. It would be more honest to say that it is difficult to visually experience any cotton-candy, sweet aesthetic or indulgence in dreamy stylistic elements in Hwang's painting. In short, Hwang's work can be defined with "personal empathy to objects." This means he tries to express himself with the various images of things. He provides us with the media or way. But one problem with this is that figures of things are changed beyond the point of human recognition.
To solve this problem, Hwang tried disassembly, transfiguration, division of ｅxpression. He really wants to reflect the vacant images in this life. But it's not easy and it is inevitable to endure artistic suffering. He's tried to show us "gaps, emptiness, absence, limits, divisions" like Pucco's comment.
Hwang's work can not be explained from the point of view of Oriental Painting. To take an attitude based on traditional Oriental Paintings, his works will be like "someone who is too far to stay close". Yet we can't dare to work is Oriental Painting, all we can say is that he follows cultural lineage with progression and innovation. Since up until now, disputes over the technical formality of Oriental Painting have obstructed the possibility of open ended growth of Oriental Painting field, and they have failed to free themselves from "rusted fetters and old patterns", Hwang's accomplishment can be said as prominent and unequaled. His attempt to overcome the limitations of Oriental Paintings excites us.
While keeping the real Korean aesthetics and spirit, he never ceases to reform Korean Paintings without any restriction in his work. But the problem is that we have not prepared any conceptual framework into which to receive Hwang's accomplishment although we use the term "Korean painting," this has no definite properties, other than that, as to spatial, regional and physical space concepts, western painting and Korean painting each has its own? Theoretical precision is rather thin. More important is change of content.
That is to say, by simply switching the word Korean Painting in place of the word "Oriental Painting" when there is actually not very much uniqueness in Korean Paintings can even be thought to result from the "rush to Koreanize". The degree of difficulty of coping with the scope of this problem has broadened. But at least I would like to count Hwang as one of the artists who uses his prominent artistic talent to solve the dual problems of Korean and International styles, He can be considered to be building a bridge between Oriental and Western Painting.
We can find his attempt to modernize the tradition (from the assumption that modernization doesn't mean westerization) in his maintaining the character of Calligraphic Paintings or Folk Paintings. And he even magnifies the effect of active calligraphy. His concept of tradition depends on his present situation, namely the modern age. So it's very natural he has some different view of artistic interpretation.
For example, unity of Painting and calligraphy for symbolizing letters. And he considers symbolizing of letter or sign as one part of artistic work. He also introduced characters themselves into the paintings.He also introduced characters themselves into the paintings. (Sound of a cock was described humorously in Chinese characters and a verse of a favorite poem was quoted.) All these effort proves his insistence on "Modernizing Tradition" His reform experiments appear also in media and matter. He has no restriction in choosing them. Not to mention oriental materials like inksticks, Korean paper(Hanji), oriental pigment, he also has been interested in other ones to magnify the effect of highly densified and condensed ｅxpression on canvas.
There are various matters like acrylic, pigment, oil, pastel, prisma color, graphite, glycerin, and glossy or ungrossy media, transparent or opaque media, and other pigment, etc. Since he is using even honey and distilled water as material, he can be described s a "modern day alchemist." Moving beyond the discussion of materials, let's think about the actual condition of his work. His works represent freedom of ｅxpression. They are as not as burning furnces. With unrestricted brush stroking there is strongly exhaustive figurization.
Though destructive treatments he shows us distorted or corrupted images with severe division. Especially in human body this effect comes out more clearly. His ｅxpression is so powerful that the motif, i.e., human body becomes nonformalized, atomized, and broken into fragments. Even though we call it a human body, it as changed into barbaric, mechanic, violent images. His human body figure gives us a psychological burden, Why does he destroy it like that? Eric Fishl, who exposed the immorality (like alcholism, homosexuality, incest) of the society in America, has made a meaningful comment.
My work concerns what lies on our awkwardness or self-consciousness which come from deep sensitive accidents in our daily life. For example a negative culture or concept against death, loss, sex, or sexual experience can't be persuasive any more because the protective cloth of them is already worn out. Therefore, its symbolic identity related with them can't stay in their position any more. It has lost already it's own vitality. In fact, we don't know what we should do. Whenever we face with an unexpected new accident, we always feel the same kind of uneasiness as though we stand naked in the public.
Where in the world have these feeling of crisis, uneasiness of modern people, who are exposed to all Kind of dangers, come from? According to Daniel Bell's [Coming of the Latter Industrial Period], all basic system of the service economy belong to a minority of professional elites. Their professional information leads their decision and also builds social trends with information banks or data banks. Finally, none of us can escape the delicate control of machine. It's just mechanical subordination.
As we know, the possibility of technology is endless, but its malfunction can also give us a fatal damage. In highly technologized society, we have lost affluence of life. Instead we get infiltration of the virus of materialism. We've already experienced it. We can't be free from not only materialism but also social, moral, values aspects. Hwang's artistic attempt represents the wounded image of we human beings in this industrial society. And also he tries to describe our portrait which already became senseless to the tragedy and he encourages us to awaken with his spirit of ages.
His desire to express this reality vividly needs some extraordinary artistic way. Therefore, he took an antisociable object like human body to reveal significant social meaning, I think. Hwang, Chang-Bae remains humble and unassuming about his work. He recognizes that Art should liberate people who are tortured severely by materialism in these days and he explores the way of humanizing art. So he always has been concerned with the surroundings of our life. He never stops trying to renew human beings from paroled spirit and emotion of man until they are perfectly liberated from material toxication. Keeping tension and effort unceasingly are his vitality of artistic life forever.
Finally with quoting his comment, I'll close this writing. Hwang's thinking and message through his work are represented in the following. "I try to be generous about my artistic experience through my life. Otherwise, and unknowingly the boundary of my art becomes gradually narrow in the stream of time"
Plate No. 18
Mixed Media on Korean Paper