English | Korean

A Short Thought on Life Seen through [The Once Little Prince]

Kim Sang-cheol [Art critic]

One of the achievements of modern Korean paintings is, so to speak, expanding of materials used and widening of the range of subject matters expressed in the works as never before. This is the result of a self-awakening and reflection to the fact that it is no longer possible to express and contain the complex and rapidly changing modern society within the traditional system of aesthetics. This immediately brought about revolutionary changes in expression methods as well as unprecedented transitions in the contents. This is the reason that these paintings have been named Korean paintings or modern Korean paintings to differentiate them from the earlier paintings that were faithful to traditional view of aesthetics.

The expanding of materials used led to widening the utilization of media breaking away from the view on materials restricted to Indian ink, and in their expressions, they dealt, without hesitation, with those contents that are more closely related to the reality. The change in material use techniques can be characterized by bold and aggressive utilization of heterogeneous materials based on the breaking away from Indian ink, and the changes in expression can be summarized as entering into the reality closely related to life. Through such changes, the boundaries of Korean paintings have expanded indefinitely, and the situation today has come to a point where the identity of the Korean paintings is under skepticism. It would be proper to understand this phenomenon as a stage of tradition rather than trying to see it as a matter of right or wrong. Considering that culture is something like an organism, requiring new source of energy generated through changes in order to prolong its life, today's situation is not necessarily negative. The important thing would be to establish new values and system of appreciation suitable for effectively evaluating and judging these new contents.

The work of the painter, Ahn Kyung-soo is the case which wholly reflects such new movement. The formative art using a pluralistic expression method called mixed materials, uses, in principle, the aesthetic principles of Indian ink paintings but shows quite a difference in its contents. Rather than restricting itself to particular principles or rules, it stands out in its emphasis on unbound individuality and liberal interpretations and expressions. The deep, dark picture plane certainly has its basis in Indian ink but the point is not in bringing out the subtle and profound beauty of an Indian ink painting but rather in faithfully reflecting the contents through the media. Therefore, traditional view of aesthetics and system of appreciation such as the elegant flow of lines and the subtle charm of ink spreading do not have much significance. This is a case where a brand new system of appreciation and recognition as an individual formative art are in absolute effect.

When it is said that the expansion of expression in Korean paintings, so to speak, has expanded into reality, reflecting life, another movement which follows is the reflecting and expressing of reality through personal and individual perspective. In other words, objects are expressed through totally personal perspectives and values rather than recognizing matters through frames and figures formed through fixed values and allotments. This is another movement reflecting the affirmation and expansion of the value of the individual which is rising in this new era.

In the work of Ahn Kyung-soo, dark, a characteristic of achromatic color, and hollow faced human figures with casts on are in place. Indian ink plays a role in this construction of dampish and heavy atmosphere. First of all, the control of expression method and material can be met with positive appraisal. The particular situation and expression constituted by delicate workings together with sensuous wit is enough to bring out direct responses from viewers without additional comments.

The casts signify a situation of disability. This does not portray a cumbersome and restricted physical situation which fetters the body, but rather it must a symbolic setting which carries some other message. The painter explains this is as “encumbrance caused by something", or "some part which restricts movement". To put it differently, although the cast is a means for treating disability or malaise, it is presented as a symbol which causes physical or mental restriction in the painter's work. The important issue would be the substance of this restriction or this fetter.

In the picture plane of the painter is placed the already familiar [The Little Prince] of Saint Exupery. As it is well-known, [The Little Prince] tells the story of a little prince who lived on a little star and his encounters with different kinds of people as he goes away from his little star to show his beloved rose her own pride and ignorance, a story which makes its readers think deeply about the meaning of life. This is the strongest evidence for understanding and comprehending the painter's work. The painter positively expresses the little prince wearing casts. If the little prince symbolizes the dreams from childhood innocence, and if the casts symbolize 'unnatural fetters', then its substance can be interpreted as signifying lost hopes or ideals. If the little prince gives a new meaning to existence in the meaningless everyday life and world and tells us about the genuine relationships among people, the painter paradoxically shows through the little prince in casts how hard it is to realize these messages in real life and how difficult it is to acknowledge and accept this reality.

Life goes on and develops itself in the midst of all the physical and mental blows and wounds brought unto us in this modern life of ours. As one grows up, hopes and ideals gradually fade away, and looking back into the everyday life, one finds [The Once Little Prince] instead of [The Little Prince]. There is a strong presence of self-scorn that for the past generation who have witnessed their dreams, hopes and ideals vanish into thin air in the midst of the reality called life, values such as dreams, hopes, love or good have there place only in nostalgia and their memories. The look back into the life back on this planet Earth without the rose or the fox to talk with or the boa constrictor turned [The Little Prince] into [The Once Little Prince].

If this comprehension has validity, it can be said, as mentioned above, that the painter's sentiments and fragmentary impressions arise from subjective interpretations and thoughts. In other words, it could be understood that breaking away from conventional expression which is easily understood through common interest or standardized formulas is another expression method practiced by the modern Korean painting. Although it has a sentimental message on a gloomy picture plane of achromatic color, the pathologically impotent situation mustn't be the only thing the painter is trying to express. Rather, perhaps it could be an attempt to express a sincere and healthy amour for life through expressing the longing for the feelings and naivety of childhood easily forgotten in the discordant reality. It is like monologue of [The Little Prince] after his trip: "Real things are not seen through our eyes but rather must been seen through our hearts. We must become friends by taming the other and becoming acquainted, making a history together. These little things pile up to become a whole world."