Confessional landscapes tell a story of the surreal

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Confessional landscapes tell a story of the surreal


Put nature and culture in a bowl and stir. Then toss it on canvas. The result is “An Unfamiliar Landscape,” an exhibition by the ink painter Park Byoung-choon, whose work is a series of playful experiments in both subjects.
His work depicts various objects resting on top of giant black-and-white old-style ink paintings of mountain cliffs ― a common motif in traditional East Asian art.
The objects also show up in random spots on a page: there’s a yellow postbox sitting by a riverbank and a watermelon floating in the air.
The objects refer to the artist’s personal memories about mountains and rivers, each with its own story (though some of the stories are unexplained).
The watermelons reveal the artist’s craving for the fruit when he went out to do sketches of the mountain in a hot summer. The women who stand in the middle of the mountain are posed to resemble images of snapshots.
The works juxtapose reality and imagination.
The furniture, banana and red lips that show up in Park’s paintings, for instance, are references to surrealist painters such as Dali and Man Ray. They often contrast with the dense brushstrokes of his background landscapes, which distract viewers from appreciating the sublime nature of the landscape.
Park’s works are drawn from the artist’s experiences of painting landscapes. The artist, who draws real mountains, defines landscape through the sense of a place he visits.
In “Landscape with Love,” a piece he did during a trip to China, Park throws in a mix of flowers, hikers and a couple having sex into one frame, depicting the artist’s vision of laandscapes for both life and love.
In a sense, Park’s paintings almost seem to be the confessions of a painter who spent years trying to be faithful to the traditional style of ink paintings.
The flashes of neon colors and eccentric objects in Park’s paintings hint at how much patience and modesty the paintings demand from an artist, and how difficult it is to hide one’s stories from one’s work.
The intensive labor that goes into each brushstroke of a traditional ink painting has pleased viewers for centuries, but it also raises the question of how style and aesthetics can appeal to modern art viewers.
Perhaps Parks’ works are a result of modern lives being totally detached from the landscapes that once constrained them.

by Park Soo-mee

“Unfamiliar Landscape” runs at Gallery Ssamzie in Insa-dong through Nov. 28. For more information, call (02) 736-0088.
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