The World of Baik Soon Shil

Hang-Sop Shin 
Art Critic 

Grasping a culture is looking into its philosophy or aesthetic consciousness rather than merely observing its style and form. Surely a culture is dressed in a specific style and form. Therefore we should understand is style ad form on order to read its basic philosophy. A certain style and form never energy by accident or spontaneously.


They always are the inevitable consequences of something. Most artists are interested culture to learn the real aesthetic values affecting the culture, because art is ultimately thought to be realizing aesthetic value and philosophy. Baik Soon Shil tries to embody artistic philosophy in her works through deep discernment of the Korean culture legacy. Her attitude is very different from those of others who mostly just embody those aesthetic values into their styles and forms at the very moment they create them. The aesthetic values which the artist has been seeking are rooted in the unquenchable sentiments or emotions handed down in traditional Korean culture. In other words, she recognizes that art is no different from creating styles and forms culture. Such recognition that art is nothing but a mirror reflecting a certain people’s culture is the threshold of her creative world, the point where she tries to enter it.


As well as an artist, Baik Soon Shil is a tea enthusiast pursuing the art tea above everything else in her everyday life. Many who do not appreciate the traditional tea culture might ask, what is so special about pursuing the art of tea in everyday life? There is a highly mental ceremonial performance of drinking tea which is called Tato, Or the “Tao of tea.” This rich spiritual legacy of the tea culture weighs heavily on the artist. One tastes tea not just by drinking it but by performing the tea ceremony. Through that performance one lifts up his stats of mind and finally reaches the art of Tao. She uses her highly cleansed mental energies to create her works. She is such a great admirer of tea that she has entitled most of her works <In Praise of Eastern Tea> (DongDaSong). Most of her works deal with the subject of tea. If we approach it that way, her artistic world suddenly evokes in viewers a sense of beauty and aesthetic consciousness, even though they are made in such a friendly way. Surely her paintings are rhapsodies to tea. All the images in her paintings start from tea and naturally end in tea. But her visual images of tea do not appear to be realistic. Wouldn’t it, perhaps, be like that taste of filtered tea? All her themes are directly related with tea, but they are not presenting the realistic shapes of tea leaves, tea plantations, or tea chinaware.


She has been composing her medleys in praise of tea for about 10 years, from the time she took up her brushes which had been lying idle on the shelf because she was busy caring for her family. <In Praise of Eastern Tea 87017>, painted in 1987, clearly projects her concept of tea. The numerous overlapped dots painted in light colors and ink, which evoke verdant tea leaves, show the consciousworld of the artist, who seems to have just awoken from delusion. Despite the fact that her works the abstract style, perhaps unintentionally, all the even-size dots and short strokes spread out like new buds naturally remind viewers of tea leaves. They reveal a slice of her aesthetic consciousness at that time. Her idea of tea was not really advanced that much beyond general ideas about tea. She still painted with dots and strokes, but they gradually changed their shapes as time passed. Such changes were related with her deep appreciation of the tea ceremony for a long time and the enhancement of her serenity of mind. They show the shift from sensual images to restrained and ceremonial images.


The basic elements of the works of this artist have always been dots and line of varied colors. And there is not a shadow of doubt that her series In Praise of Eastern Tea consists of pure abstract works composed of basic artistic elements such as dots, lines, colors, colored spaces, and forms. The artist abandons concrete forms which will provide some visual clue. Although no one can specifically tell what they are, her works somehow make viewers feel that they are really looking into something tangible. This is the distinctive visual characteristic of her works. She is trying to clarifying that her paintings, she systematically constructs things with solid force. She always works in a lucid state of mind. Her expressions, ruled by her aestheticconsciousness, and her aesthetic sense, inspired by her work process, are well arranged in accordance with strict artistic principles. “The strict artistic principles” are nothing but the mainspring driving her structural power.


Baik Soon Shil attaches great importance to forms as well. Forms are the means of handing abstract languages. Forms are very closely related with the style of her paintings. She blends contrasting bright primary and achromatic colors, which create tight visual tensions and fill up the whole canvas. Forms did not clearly appear in the series <In Praise of Eastern Tea>, but all the images compounded of varied tones of light colors drawn in ink reflect dim traces of forms. Later these forms turn into geometrical patterns. Here, these new forms or patterns have more than plane space composed of pure and simple colors. Dots, lines, and colored spaces, her main artistic elements as mentioned earlier, spread out evenly over the whole canvas with a vividness produced by the sharp contrast between colors and forms. Sometimes forms in geometrical patterns are the fastest way to convey aesthetic pleasure to viewers. Perhaps that is why she carefully uses geometrical patterns. But when they are needed, she uses them in daring and direct expressions.


Colors used in these forms mold the characteristics of her works. The artist blends powdered mineral pigment with ink and water adds adhesives to make it stick to Korean rice paper. With the powdered pigment the artist applies various paint materials including acrylic colors, cake ink, and even ground coffee. She is not fastidious about what materials she uses in her works. Perhaps that is why the colors in her <In Praise of Eastern Tea> have deep resonance and maximized superficial beauty at the same time. Acute images realized by extreme contrasts of primary and achromatic colors make one suddenly aware of the beauty of colors. She suggests the tense relationship between inwardly calm achromatic colors and dazzling radiant colors with dramatic pleasure which tightens one’s slack mind. Her works resuscitate for us the purity of abstract art.


One the other hand, the colors appear to be different when she uses less bright and primary colors. When her paintings are filled mostly with achromatic tones they evoke ritual ceremonies. If bright colors stir up our sentiments, achromatic colors make us calm and submerge our sentiments and at the same time give us spiritual awareness. The cleaned state of mind enables us to penetrate the world. If a seeker after truth can reach the pellucid state of mind through asceticpractices and meditation it is not just a matter of chance. From the tea ceremony the artist learns the principle of awakening clear spirit by calming down bright colors. Achromatic colors are ruled by reason rather than the senses, so they make visual understanding harder for viewers.


The artist sometimes filters out warm feelings and shows only cold color images. But if we look into them closely, we realize that some squirming lives in the land of the achromatic speak sentimentally. And they are dots, lines, and colored spaces, the basic elements of her expression. Such minimal units or cells are the start and the end of the works of Baik Soon Shil. Combining and dispersing unite leads to certain forms and affects the layout. But her expressive units seem to be tending towards more solid images lately. Sometimes they resemble realistic shapes. She seems be getting closer to real images of nature.


As the title of her print <Song of Mother Earth 9523> suggests, she is directly faking as her subject the life force of earth. This change of theme does not mean that she intends to draw realistic forms. It would be more proper to say that she became interested in introspecting the life-giving force of earth, the root if all lives. Her interests shifted from an inquiry into pure aesthetic beauty, the spiritual enlightenment she finds in the tea ceremony, to lives in the real world. Strictly speaking, the tea ceremony might more than a part of everyday life. Restraining our feelings or opening our souls might also be only a part of everyday life. With this viewpoint, wouldn’t it be the inevitable that her interest would shift to the earth, the fundamental body raising all living creature? Focusing on the force of earth which gives birth to tea leaves and buds is another way of approaching the subject if tea.


Baik Soon Shil does not only enjoy the taste of tea but also makes pilgrimages to green tea plantations. She has even wandered around plantations in China. Looking at tea plantations, perhaps she is trying to concretize real images of tea rather than merely feeling it from tea ceremonies or drinking it without seeing it. Experiences contribute the clarity to ideas. From traveling around tea plantations she received the earth’s breathing life force which cultivates tea. The image of earth has been in her paintings since she began her pilgrimages to tea plantations. Though the image of earth is expressed in an abstract way, we can still receive vivid feelings about the earth. The spotted green colors on a brownish-tone background are naturally understood as the living activities of tea rooting deep into mother earth. Sometimes we associate even the green mountains in the background with image of tea leaves. But such images exist like fragments of the things. And a curiosity arise which she breaks her strict rule of describing real form.


Her series <In Praise of Eastern Tea> glorifies the tea culture. Through tea ceremonies and traveling to real tea plantations she explains the reason for her devotion to tea. At the same time, she hopes that viewers do not miss the distinctive characteristic in her works, the aesthetic connection with the tea arts, which is something different from anything in other works of art. The artist attempts to embody the conceptual value of tea arts into visible artistic values. A physical body with no spirit is only a mortal theca. Paintings with lack of spirit are also a mere illusion. The breath of life can be imbued in paintings by enlightened consciousness. The works of Baik Soon Shil are the fruit of meditation and the virtues of the traditional tea culture. Through the legacy tea culture she extends her realm to nature’s invisible engineering, the force of all living things, from the life force if earth she is much aware of the fact that art itself should accumulate spiritual power to move other people. Surely this is so. She is seeking a unique artistic expressions as well as spiritual awareness