Nanan creates flower arrangements to last a lifetime
Nanan Kang, often referred to as just Nanan, is an artist that cannot be easily categorized. Her “Long Long Time Flower” series, which are cut-outs of flower paintings that can be put in a vase or arranged into a bouquet like real flowers, as well as her drawings on windows, has earned her fame among design and fashion industry insiders and hipsters on social media, but she is lesser known in the so-called “fine art world.”
Now Nanan is widening her territory by holding her solo show “Long Long Time Flower 2021” until Sunday at the leading art auction house Seoul Auction’s Gangnam Center in southern Seoul, a playground for “fine art” collectors.
In this exhibition, Nanan presents mainly the cut-outs of original paintings of flowers and of other objects inspired by the motifs in old Korean folk paintings and crafts. Many of the cut-outs, arranged into bouquets and framed, hang on the walls, while others are put in moon jars, or round-shaped white porcelain jars, on antique wooden furniture pieces. According to Seoul Auction, all her works on display were sold in the first week of the show.
In a corner of the exhibition hall is “Long Long Time Flower Shop,” where people can choose and buy print cut-outs, each of which depicts a flower or a leaf, for 5,000 won ($4.40) per piece. Visitors can make their own bouquets, which could be considered new artworks made in collaboration with Nanan.
Last December, when Lotte Department Store’s Yeongdeungpo branch in western Seoul opened a similar pop-up store to celebrate the installation of Nanan’s giant bouquet sculpture inside the renovated retailer, there was a long queue of people to buy the flower print cut-outs. "The sales result even surprised the executives” of the retailer, according to Jung Go-eun, curator of Lotte Gallery.
“I don’t exactly know why people like my ‘Long Long Time Flower’ pieces so much [...] Maybe it is because people can exchange them as gifts, which is also an act of art in my view,” Nanan told the Korea JoongAng Daily at Seoul Auction Gangnam Center last month.
“In particular, when I saw someone bring Long Long Time Flowers as a present to a bedridden patient, I felt really grateful,” the artist continued. “I even saw a person crying in front of one of my works in this exhibition. My works seem to have some therapeutic qualities.”
The creation of the “Long Long Time Flower” series also originates from a gift for a friend in 2013, Nanan said. “I love flowers, so I would give my friends the bouquets that I made of real flowers on their birthdays. Then, I hit upon the idea that, as a painter, I had better give them my drawings of flowers. However, I didn’t want to give them flowers painted within rectangular frames.”
“Finally, I created cut-outs of flower drawings, after one of my friends asked me to make a wedding bouquet for her,” the artist continued. “When I gave the bouquet made of the cut-outs to my friend, she said, ‘This bouquet of flowers will not fade for a long, long time.’ Then, I decided to call the pieces ‘Long Long Time Flower.’”
To know more details about her works, the Korea JoongAng Daily sat down with Nanan. The following are excerpts from the interview.
You started as a magazine editor and illustrator around 2000 and gained recognition for your drawings of elaborate lines on shop windows with the white paint you developed in the mid 2000s. [Nanan is often dubbed the first professional window painter in Korea.] But this solo show is only your second after the 2019 exhibition at Lotte Avenuel in Jamsil, eastern Seoul. Why?
Before, I felt little need to hold an exhibition, because my window paintings are on display for the public on streets or in other public spaces. In addition, I have actively communicated with the public on social media ranging from Cyworld [a Korean social network service] in the 2000s to Instagram nowadays. However, I know the joy of seeing artworks in person, which I myself experienced as the first viewer of my works when completed. And there were young illustrators and designers curious about my working process. Accordingly, I held my first solo show in 2019 and unveiled my working process there. The enthusiastic response was even beyond my expectation.
The major popularity of “Long Long Time Flower” could lead to plagiarism. Are you concerned about that?
I’ve already seen copycats! My Instagram followers keep me informed of such cases. As I learned from the painful experience with my window paintings before, I have already obtained a patent for my “Long Long Time Flower” including its concept and its title. I politely warned the copycats and then they withdrew their works.
After my window paintings earned popularity, some people began to draw on windows in a very similar style and with a similar material to mine around 2010. One of them even opened a class of window drawing in my style! I was helpless at that time. Finally, I thought, ‘Okay, then I’ll let everybody draw on windows in my style, in the right way.’ So I developed a “Window Tree” kit for the Christmas season, which includes items such as a white marker pen I developed, a tree design and a manual so that people could create their own Christmas tree on their windows at home without cutting down real trees or buying plastic ones.
Some of your “Long Long Time Flower” pieces in this exhibition seem to have been inspired by flowers, animals and objects depicted in Korean traditional folk paintings and patterns of old Korean porcelain.
A Yes, I thought about how I can express my identity in my bouquets [of cut-outs] and studied how our ancestors depicted flowers and nature in folk paintings and in decorative patterns for daily necessities. Not only their forms but their meanings fascinated me. When our ancestors brought natural elements to art in everyday life, they gave each element a symbolic meaning. Now, I re-create such tradition in my works.
You seem to actively take part in collaborations with companies and have many friends who are celebrities in the entertainment industry.
Yes, I did 12 or 13 art collaboration projects last year. I like collaboration projects because they help me approach the public more easily. In addition, they often become unexpected sources of inspiration and lead to new collaborations. For example, when I designed patterns for tableware of KwangJuYo [a Korean premium porcelain maker] last year, I became more fascinated by Korean traditional porcelain pieces. That led to moon jars carrying “Long Long Time Flower” pieces in this exhibition.
My celebrity friends are also a source of inspiration. I created stage decorations for singer Lee Seung-hwan's concert last year. He always impresses me with his passion and energy for music. He also gave me a wonderful gift recently. When I asked him whether he has any used, leftover pianos, after I became interested in playing the instrument, he sent me a gorgeous vintage piano. My art is created amid exchanges of friendship and emotions with such wonderful friends.
BY MOON SO-YOUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]