The Mundane and the Sublime in the Paintings of Hyun Ok Kim

by John Austin (2016 | New York, NY, USA)


Whether by inclusion of panoramic scenes of nature or images of children Hyun Ok Kimīs paintings have within them a holistic quality that overrides the particulars we see framed within the vision of each subject matter. There is a palpable and necessary condition of positive ambiguity and other-worldliness in the artistīs works which pervades each scene and which brings it to an exquisitely high level of intelligibility. Form and color and structure overrides the intellect here, as it does intuition altogether, although these two aspects of creativity are satisfyingly applied in each of Kimīs works before us.

There is that intangible "more" at play in the artistīs paintings whose very aura of suggestiveness, so hard to pin down and express in words, is proof of its measure. How to define this presence? perhaps like this: It is John Dewey who remindes us of Edgar Allen Poeīs reference to "a suggestive indefiniteness of vague and therefore spiritual effect" and of Coleridgeīs remark that every work of art must have about it something not understood to obtain its full effect. These two facets of an artwork, a vague suggestiveness and a not-known, combined, give the spark of life to art. Jarvis Wilcoxīs work bespeaks of a particular expansion of the spirit which gives rise to this intense, inner realization. This deepening manfestation of an intrinsic potential of all matter is at the heart of Kimīs cultural efforts.

The impressionistic figure and landscape paintings of the artist are nothing if subtle realizations of color, light and form. The artist seems to have taken his cue from the likes of Sargeant, Chardin and Eakins in her intense deliberations on the passage of time sensed through a quicksilver sensibility. What is most striking with Kimīs examination of the world before her is her investiture in the act of seeing, really seeing, what is before her as if she were seeing for the first time.

By this I mean that the artistīs attempts at capturing first impressions through her sensations appear unprejudical and alert to incongruencies of perspectival and scale shifts. What emerges through the painterly effort is to see the manifestation of the world, that moment when the motif, as a whole, of sensate experience is realized, instantaneously. This pre-verbal apprehension of the world, this feeling - tone that pervades Kimīs work, as in those of her nineteenth-century artistic predecessors, is one in which the slow and hazy flow of time seems to be materialized through light.

It is through the passage of the sunīs ray that the viewer understands Kimīs meditative approach to her calling, which evokes the capturing of the sublime moment. What is significant in Kimīs images of children and nature is the painterīs successful attempt at seeking to produce an image prior to cultural intervention when the distinctions between naturalness and human labor are interposed. So, too, what Norman Bryson has termed the "proximal" space of the body and of the gestures of the hands (children playing, walking, picking blossoms) has been explored with unusual care.

For the artist exploration of the idea of the beginning is at the core of her investigations what makes these excursions into visuality so encompassing is the artistīs evident longing to capture lifeīs most fugitive effects. To do so, suggests the artist, is the surest means to convey a multitude of experiences. When Charles Baudelair defined modernity as "the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent, the half of art whose other half is the eternal and the immutable", he was speakting for all of us who feel the fleeting rush of time and the need to capture its essence.

Hyun Ok Kim, through her visual descriptions, her figure and natures-reposées, encourages us to consider the "fugitive" immateriality of the world. Paradoxically, it is the artistīs immersion within this immateriality, this grounding within the very stuff of life that sharpens her observational skills. The end result is a switching between different levels of reality, from the mundane to the exalted to the sublime and back. In his seeming determination to see for us what we have overlooked in the rushing stream of life Hyun Ok Kim, artist, becomes an extraordinary recorder of the ordinary gestures of living.