A journey between man and nature, where relationships of agency determine artistic process
It’s a Sunday morning when Anna Dato and I meet and leave Seoul, heading towards Kim Taeksang’ studio in Ilsan, at the north-west side of the capital. Whereas Anna, whom I have to thank for introducing me to the artist, has already seen the artworks in person, for me it’s the first time.
I am excited, to say the least: already from the pictures I could see online, I knew it would have been a powerful experience. There is something intangible and unspeakable that lingers in the delicacy of Taeksang’ paintings – as I will explain later.
And there is also a certain thrilling intimacy and vulnerability when you get to see artworks in the home of an artist’ creativity – its studio – and a certain responsibility that comes with the fact that you are entering a world that is not yours. Yet, you have been granted access to it: you can step feet inside the artist’ genius, idea, process. Loudness is forbidden, you have to be quite, receptive, modest.
Visiting Kim Taeksang‘ studio is a journey into the relationship between man and nature, displayed through color – modesty and meditation are the key words – light and water the ‘deus ex machina’ of such process. And process is perhaps the most important lens of reading, as anyone that works with conceptual or contemporary art is often taught.
Color is everywhere, it captures you through the canvas, but it does it slowly, peacefully. Through our dialogues at the studio, Anna and I realized how it could be associated as the reverse process of what observing a Rothko would do. In Greek (or perhaps Nietzschean) terms, if contemplating a Rothko would unveil a dyonisiac side of art, (where chaos is put into matter through a violent capture of the eye), Kim Taeksang‘ paintings are the perfect conveynment of the Apollonian – an harmony that comes only when the irrational sense of self is conveyed into appearance through a certain mediation (in this case – meditation) that originates art, ποίησις.
In other words, it might be linked to the Confucian concept of harmony: Confucian ideas wants us to seek harmony yet to not achieve sameness, maintaining contrasting elements through creative tension.
In the art of Kim Taeksang the concept of harmony is unveiled through an archetypal quest for a precise equilibrium of self and other, translated in a coexistence of man and nature that seems almost lost to us whom in the contemporary world live in constant conflict.
Entering the studio, my eyes are immediately captured by a layered red canvas which is anticipated by three Tibetan bells, skillfully positioned on the ground. It is not an installation, but it speaks loudly about one important part of Taeksang’ art: the role of meditation and reference to tradition – whereas this may be Korean, Tibetan or from several other cultures.
Indeed, there is an interesting harmony between tradition and modernity: Kim Taeksang connects to the language of modernity through both a tangible and an intangible manner. The most noticeable to the eye – which, to be understood, requires only a look into the evolution of his art, is the choice of color.
“If before I would only work with primary colors – as I thought they were the only ones to be “natural” – today I work also with neon and secondary color, as I realized they are part of nature too”, says the artist while showing us a beautiful luminescent scrabble.
Bright and neon colors transmit nevertheless a sense of contemporaneity, yet in Taeksang’ paintings they do it with such sense of delicacy that is sublimated by the process behind it. And, in its constant dialogue with and inspiration from tradition, the artist doesn’t forget to show us the traditional Korean garments for women of the Joseon dynasty he owns at the studio – perhaps new and old, contemporary and traditional, man and nature, are connected more than what we remember in our rushed everyday life.
The second way in which Kim Taeksang’s art connects with modernity is something that you can understand if you look at the artist’s process and you accept to enter his world-view.
As I said before, perhaps the most important key of reading here is the process, matter that I start to understand while the artist plays the Tibetan bells for us: what we see represented in the paintings it’s both primordial and delicate, it’s a call for an universal dialogue that speak to us all, directly to the chore, a translation of the bell’s vibration in its visual counterpart. Not mediated by any language, the layering of color unveils two specific features of the work: meditation and modesty (or, a meditation on modesty – for instance).
What the artist defines as modesty is the fundamental act of taking a step back during its creative process and leaving agency to nature, which plays its role through two vessels: water and light, both impressing their passage through the watercolor canvas by playing with the color’ gradients, shapes, intensities.
Time only will tell the result – it being after months or years of leaving the canvas following a process that in Italian I would love to call decantazione – the English world would be “settling”, yet it feels like a lost in translation.
That harmony in contrast then becomes an harmony achieved through co-agency: man and nature not only coexist, but also collaborate. There is not anymore creative tension, there is balance. And nothing more than that could resonate as modern, in fundamental contrast with what man and nature are today. Thus, it’s exactly here that a revolutionary message unveils, when the viewer, the modern man or woman that exists situated in a discourse of fast-pace life and individualism, faces and understands the chore concept of modesty through Kim Taeksang’ art.
Thus, the artwork’s aura, that Walter Benjamin declared as lost in our modern society, regains its own place: it’s an aura that comes into being with a certain vision. Kim Taeksang’s sees his own art as a messenger that can inspire, connect – a jest that may help us restoring a (lost?) dialogue with harmony, nature, society itself.
And from the point of view of the viewer, I like to think that looking at Kim Taeksang’s art is an act of meditation itself. It’s a moment in which the self steps back and something else steps in. I often see Art in its absolute sense as a dialogue between immanence and impermanence, between man and something that is Other, not visible, that we can’t really name. In previous times, some may have called this god, and some still do. In a different way of reading, the Other can be embodied in a precise message, that capture us for an instant, unveiling something to us through art.
“Do you see what I see?”, the artwork may ask. – to us, as Lacan and Foucault said, is left the ultimate interpretation, and the discretion of deciding whether that message will follow our fate, that of be impermanent.
Dostoevsky – an author that is extremely dear to me – once said “At first, art imitates life. Then life will imitate art. Then life will find its very existence from the arts”.
Kim Taeksang is leaving us with a precise message, that in resonance with the Russian author is carried through the belief that art is perhaps something useful, something that can inspire a dialogue, that can inspire life – being itself inspired by it. A virtuous circle, if you will.