The acclaimed and prolific Korean-American artist Wonsook Kim has staged sold out art shows from Seoul to Rio de Janeiro. And now she is back in New York City exhibiting a flurry of brand new work with her long-time Manhattan gallery where she remains exclusive the Georges Berges gallery in Soho. There is nothing marginal about this new work featuring her signature tropes — the subversive, nomadic theme of flight along with her now familiar dark and sombre hues she uses to evoke oeuvre.
This latest work would look right at home in the permanent collection of the new Louvre of Abu Dhabi, Dubai which was the first thing said to her as we air kissed amongst a fervent turn out of fans for her recent Soho opening.
GEORGE WAYNE – Why title this new show ‘Wings of Grace’ beyond the obvious visual metaphors here?
WONSOOK KIM – I put together this show with wings in mind, birds, angels and shadows. The wings represent “the otherworldliness, different prospective to see life. It also is about seeing life not just as here and now but thinking of different time and space. It is a playful way of denying what “is” but what it can be.
GW – This is like your 62 or so, solo show. Am I correct? Talk about a prolific artist!
WK – Yes, When it came to my attention that this is 64thsolo shows, I thought there is a mistake. Someone might have counted group shows as solo shows or something of those kinds of honest mistake. So I counted and checked, and sure is, it is correct number.
GW – I have heard one noted arbiter quip that – the average person looks at a painting for a mere 15 seconds. Do you think this new work of yours breaks the mold?
WK – 15 seconds? I think it is a bit shorter than that, may be it is an average time.
One spends longer time depending on their interest. I have seen some people spending more, lot more time than 15 sec with my work. I think it is because they see themselves in it, their curiosity stirred and images resonate with their imagination. Somehow, lots of current art makes viewers feel intimidated even into bewilderment with its difficult agenda. In my works, they see what they can recognize and playful reminder of other world, sorrows and disappointments put into different prospective…takes more than 15 seconds for that conversation.
GW- So what is the conversation, the narrative that you are trying to drive with this new work?
WK – Hafiz, that gifted 13 century Persian poet I love said, “Art is the conversation between lovers. Art offers an opening for the heart. True art makes the divine silence in the soul break into applause.”
I do think it is a conversation, not with a known language but with language of emotion. I would love for a conversation with the viewers, that despite life’s difficulties, that this is a beautiful and magical life, totally worth living.
GW – How has the inherent culture of your native South Korea shaped your work?
WK – Like many other cultures, Koreans love stories. We grew up with myths and stories that govern our psyche, etched in out heart.
I am continuing that stories with my own experiences.
Also that traditional use of basic ink and brush is my main tools to put down ideas. I am constantly drawn to that black and white drawings.
GW – There is a dense nomadic theme throughout your oeuvre. The theme of flight, that nomadic theme is a constant. Whether it’s that raven, that crow, that black bird singing in the dead of the night. Or your constant angel winged woman. The conceptual weight of your work does revolve around these motifs. Explain.
WK – yes, it is all about movements, seen or unseen. As our spirit moves around, a constant journey over our daily life. Our imagination, desire, wishes and dream moves around us, in our heads.
I wanted to paint that unseen movements either with wind or with wings flying over our life.
GW – Your abuse (for want of a better word, and meant as a compliment) of primary colors here — the dense macabre black strokes, and the terracotta-clay-like brown hues dominate the range of new work. Are you happy with the results?
WK – Yes. Very much. My basic black and white brush drawing with strong orange tone that is like sunrise or sunset color.
Sunrise or sunset time is a very magical moment, before or after the buzz of the daily life.
GW – And what language you were trying to convey with the material used?
WK – Always a language of the heart. A language that does not demand art theory, knowledge of current contemporary milieu, now art…but a simple and honest seeing and knowing.
GW – Your work, you once said ”explores universal feelings of sorrow, loss, joy and loneliness,” and the new work certainly rings true with that narrative.
WK – My narrative is always light and shadow. What is seen and unseen. Beautiful and dangerious (like any flight can be), confidence and vulnerability, clarity and ambiguity, how life balances itself.
GW – And you have also said that your work ”thrives on a mystical subject matter.” Care to expound?
WK – Again, I think myth, imagination depicts life much more clearly than realism. It takes the unknown into a main consideration, taking what we know to be taken not too seriously. Metaphor speaks a lot close to meaning than spelling out the obvious.
GW – The enchanting bronze relief sculptors are a noted stand-out of the new series…
WK – I called them, “shadow drawing”. The bronze sculpture that hung about one inch off the wall castes a shadow that is like a brush drawing on a wall. Again, light and shadow..
GW – Your work would look right at home in the permanent collection of the new Louvre in Abu Dhabi….
WK – What a great idea! Even though I have very little hope in having my works taken seriously enough for that grand scale. I do not mean to belittle my work; it is only a comment about our contemporary art agenda.
GW – Talk about the most influential influence of your career, and your mentor of mentors the professor Harold Boyd…
WK – I am fortunate enough that I can mention so many mentors, known to them or not.
I came to US as a sophomore from Korea with a big dream of becoming a great artist, youth! While color field abstractionism was THE thing at that time (1972) and I copied that style with paint poured onto canvas, walked over with boots on and so forth. I got good grades, which I needed to maintain my scholarship. Prof. Boyd who saw my drawings that I did in private encouraged me to develop that as my ART !. I owe him so much for that pivotal moment; help me to differentiate between what is my own voice and what is expected and mainstream. Drawing figures in the middle of abstraction and minimalism all took a bit of courage, still needed energy.
GW – What’s the most precious piece of art you own by an artist other than yourself?
WK – Harold Boyd’s drawings, Korean folk art panels, copies of William Blake’s lithograph, Edward Munch etching, among so many
GW – Talk about your creative presentation at the Georges Berges gallery on November 16…
WK – My two good poet friends, Ms.Moon from Korea who is a leading Feminist poet and Larry Litt, a great story teller and performer will join to take us to their world of poems. It is a Korean culture interpreted into different gender, time and space. A fun evening indeed.
GW – What do you appreciate the most about the way Georges Berges advocates for your work?
WK – At first, I was surprised by the fact that George actually “looked” at my work, with his keen eyes and intelligent emotion. He was not afraid of speaking this not so cutting edge language. He even came up with a descriptive word for my work as “Magical Realism”. He is young, energetic and open-minded guy willing for a different journey. He actually had a bit of skeptic response to my title of this show, “Wings of Grace,” stating of its religious connotation as negative. I sat him down to tell him that we need to steer away from these conventions of this contemporary world. Cool people does not do religion, etc. From when spirituality is degraded into negative, why would the most comforting and mysterious word like Grace is a cheesy and tacky? I insisted and he “gracefully” admitted that he actually got to like it.
GW – Talk about the love of your life Thomas Kim. He is very handsome.
WK – Thomas Kim ! ha ha, he would like that. His last name is Clement. He did mention that he wants to change his last name to Kim since many call him that anyway. Yes, he is handsome but more beautiful inside.
He is a Korean War orphan left on the streets of Seoul after the war, adopted into American Family in 1958. He is a very successful medical inventor with 50 medical device patens and a company that is doing well,
Not bad for a street beggar child!
GW – What are your thoughts on mentoring and post-millennial philanthropy? If any at all….
WK – Thomas and I are involved in many of such endeavor. We are all about encouraging others, next generation to do their best to make this life more than what it can be, this good life that is so worth living.