Suh, Yong Sun [Republic of Korea]
THE WORKS OF SUH, YONG SUN
BEING IN MELBOURNE
The works of Suh, Yong Sun in this exhibition presents to us a particular vision, a vision of being in the world. They were completed during his residency for the iAIR (international Artist in Residence) program at the School of Art, RMIT University, in Melbourne during 2010.
Suh is a contemporary Korean painter, a narrative painter in the great tradition of storytellers. Stories that enable us to think, feel, look and experience our time on earth and what informs it.
In the past these have been of epic dimensions concerning Korean and global histories, war, duty, betrayal, change, suffering, workers, rulers, people. His work engages with the grand narrative, almost Shakespearian-like in their drama and scope. His ambition is to tell us important things through painting. The scale and range of his work matches the scope of the grand epic narrative. He is, if you like to think of him in this way, a Kurosawa of paint.
Suh is equally capable of generating modest tales, reflective contemplations of places, temples, and people including himself, engaging in daily life amid the passage of time.
The Melbourne paintings in this exhibition belong to this reflective stream. They are works of acrylic on Dakpaper and were made from observations and experiences of the everyday world in the city precinct near his studio at RMIT University. The works address the existential experiences of being: buying a cake, waiting, looking, observing. Ones that we can all recognise no matter what city we have visited or live in. Time passes. The works evoke the experience of being alone, of being us, of being in time, of being in the specific time of now.
Suh's works give us the opportunity to reflect on such things through their motifs, gestures and colour relationships that shift and build over our time of looking. Time is revealed not only in the narrative in these works but in Suh's material manipulation of paint and in the dates written on the works indicating the time spent in making.
Suh, Yong Sun pays attention to the minor incidents, the scenes of street life; the incidents depicted appear modest, yet in their emotional timbre they achieve a wide range of feeling from drama to melancholy. There is sympathy and empathy in these works but they are painted as if with a sharp blade. No sentimentality is evident here either in Suh's manner of painting or in his witnessing of life. The paintings result from powerful feelings and acute observation but in them there is no evading the realities of life. Life is both sweet and painful. In these works we are surrounded by people, we meet them, talk with them, share space with them but we remain alone accepting our fate. Life is transient.
From a Western perspective Suh's manner of painting has a number connections with twentieth century movements: with German Expressionism, Neo-Expressionism. In Australia it could be compared to the works of the Antipodeans including Sydney Nolan and Albert Tucker in Melbourne. These movements employed highly-charged colour and exaggerated forms to observe place and society via a celebration of the individual's personality.
However to see Yong Sun Suh's work as a simple variation of these Western movements does not do justice to his contribution. As an artist his work is original and skilful, and he brings something fresh to the understanding of the expressionist genre.
His practice has contributed to and grows from a long tradition of expressionistic painting in Korea. To my mind his work has the directness and energy inherent in Chan Buddhist painting. These attributes combine with a deeply-felt humanism that was one of the impulses behind Korean Expressionism of the 1970s and 80s. Suh's combination of directness of expression with a compassionate humanism places the work outside much Western Neo-Expressionism of the 1980s. His style is individual but it does not celebrate expression of the self. Suh's work is not cynical, it is not utopian, it simply is.
Suh's paint handling reveals a similar directness. His gesture is a fact of the time and energy of the painting process. The reality of the paint and its gestural manipulation is important (facture as the French would say). Paint as well as signifying, simply is, as is colour in this work. Suh employs a unique colour palette that includes a wide tonal and chromatic range, often an acerbic one. His palette is resonant, optically complex with layered planes of highly chromatic colour surrounded by complimentary or contrasting lines. These are not made to illustrate a colour theory, but to generate sensation and energy. Paint is applied thin and fast. Their surfaces have an organic and intuitive rightness about them that marries with conscious awareness. Feeling and intellect, the inner and outer, the experienced and observed meet there on the surface. His work seems to contain colour harmonies that are informed by the delicate and often surprising (to me) colour palette of Korea. It is as if in the painted surfaces of paintings the colour palettes of Hockney, Kirchner, Sesshu and Whanki meet. The result of all of this are paintings that talk of "human being - ness" via their unique optical and material presence.
Suh, Yong Sun is a Korean artist in the world. He travels widely within Korea and abroad. Places, people affect him, inform his palette, his gestures and his imagery. His work can be considered as both the movement of the world through a transient sensibility and the movement of a sensibility through a transient world. By thinking of this we can learn much, by paying attention to the work of Suh Yong Sun we can see and feel much.
Melbourne and Hong Kong, May 2011
Dr David Thomas is an Associate Professor in the School of Art, RMIT University. His work is held in major public and private collections throughout Australia, New Zealand and Europe.
iAIR is global in attitude, action and presence—connecting people through art and generating opportunities for creative experimentation, cross-cultural dialogue and international mobility. iAIR gratefully acknowledges and recognizes the support of the Vice- Chancellor and President of RMIT, Professor Margaret Gardner AO; the Pro Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President, Professor Colin Fudge; and the Head of the School of Art, Professor Elizabeth Grierson.
RMIT iAIR - http://www.rmit.edu.au/browse;ID=pm4f99a2mqfi1
Surface: texture, materiality and conceptual plasticity