Poetics of Life

Lee Yong-Woo 
Art Critic 


International Center of Graphic Arts Ljubljana sincerely salutes presentation of the works by Baik Soon Shil. The exhibition represents important continuum of program exchange between our two countries. At the same time we want to thank to Mr.Lee, Yong-Woo for his precious collaboration.


When I look over Baik Soon Shil’s works carefully, I am constantly reminded of the relationship between art and life. Man has started to seek out for another kind of form in life, and this has approached us and stayed with us under the name of beautiful but painful rhetoric of art. This kind of life is extending its boundary with claiming poetics of linguistic function and plastic beauty of expressive function. Is it that our daily life and art are quite different from one another?


Baik’s art world which has continued for the last 20years is one that belongs to a case clearly realizing the relationship of ’reality and art’ as an equation. Her work is a poetic mirror, and could become an artificial structure standing beyond our life’s boundary. Art without any imagination would no more turn to be an ‘art’ or ‘techne’ but a mere description; we achieve more enriches world of sensibilities by coexisting that powerfulimagination with art. Baik, however, shows that this world of sensibilities, just like a shadow of man, reveals its abstract substance only in special place. Shadow naturally does not exist as our traces of remembrance which define special location and firm of object.


Baik’s work is represented by a poetic title of “Dong Da Song”. This literally means ‘singing about Korean traditional tea’. She is from Gwangjoo, Cheollanam-do; as a result she has lived in the neighborhood of Boseong and Beolgyo which are noted for their production of traditional tea. Her specialization in Korean painting also made her stand within Korean tradition. As Korean ink which appears to the Westerners as only an image of black is a philosophical material that expresses Korean tea which has been handed down with meditative consciousness is compared to Korean ink. Korean tea no more exists as one material among kinds of tea than blank in Korean painting is mere empty space. Spiritual, meditative and naturalistic emotion shown in her works stems from color extracted from Korean material and earth. Korean tea does not serve only as a need for some established from and linguistic from of tea art.


Korean tea in Baik’s works serves as a major material and appears as a mixture of color, life and patience, and this is an exercise of life in formative process of tea. She tries to express the productive characteristic if earth bearing tea and the productive characteristic of earth bearing tea and the persistent power of life in tea leaves, or the providence of adaptable nature. This, however, is transposed by life’s song to become a form of painting. It is shown in three aspects. First is the image of mountain which bore life. When it is interpreted in a passive way, mountain is only a large collection of nature. But it is not only the root of Oriental thought which look forward to philosophic ripeness but also the active message of seeking after truth in Zen. Mountain bears the same elements of human body, and it is the fatalistic object containing Oriental philosophy to go nature. In the east, mountain comprises both life and death. It is both the mass of power making life’s dynamic movement possible and the place if burial after death. Mountain is very poetic in that it comprises both life and death. So our interpretation of mountain in painting, for the most part, pertains to literary allegory and life’s problem.


Second is the sense if color in Baik’s works. Color may be a costume in expressive art, but in reality it is something that defines the character of the work. Character in this case is not confined to only brightness and darkness, or chiaroscuro. For example, minimalism or monochrome painting has doubted the efficiency and utility of color, and showed us that color cannot be an absolute element in art. Here restraint in color rather magnifies the power of life and the problem of chiaroscuro is also absorbed in a more dramatic situation. The former convention that color is not only the costume of art but also the absolute element defining the character of art has become an unnecessary explanation. Color in Baik’s recent works appears as restrained and efficient. Whereas she overcame the discord if from with image by presenting brilliant and powerful color in the past, she now in the 90s attempts the posture of an inquirer by dynamically taking color in theme and subject matter. In fact, except for the case of fork art, we can hardly find any case of color-oriented period in Korean art history. This is concerned with national sentiment, and is still more conspicuous in special art form of using Korean paper.


Restraint if color in Baik’s works brought some special effects. One is the distinctness of theme and subject matter. Tea art in its form itself contains messages of inquiry in Zen. And that effect id silence in the form of tea art keeps in touch with Oriental meditation. Therefore, by introducing heavy and silent color in her paintings, natural force of life that she tries to express gives rise to inner sympathy. The other is that the monotone color and composition in her city, but her mind is always oriented to that of an inquirer. This kind of life might have been influenced by her religion of Catholic. But anyhow her life’s color is just like that of the Oriental painting in light coloring. Artist might have the chance to fall on more concrete answer when he puts his ideas on crude mass of color. This is quite similar with the assumption that we can bring out some map firms of Seoul when we put together the ideas of citizens in Seoul. This is more an explanation of everything that equates art and life than it is the color or the complimentary color if a certain person. Therefore, in the double structure of expressive art that we draw and talk about, there is naturally a crossover like complimentary color.


One of the third characteristics that appear in Baik’s recent works is revealing the declarative message of deviation from theme and material. ‘’Dong Da Song’(Singing of Eastern Tea) is the primary ideal term, and the expression of tea’s color and form is still revealed in some of her works. But this is gradually transposed by anonymous matter. The fact that she was faithful with matter during the 1980s can be found in her lively abstract paintings that expressed Oriental mind of tea and the sprit if inquirer. And she tried to describe abstract images as something like the tried to describe abstract image as something like the ‘odor of tea’. However, she is getting out of this idea and unrealistic ambiguity. She is now more concerned in nature’s life which brings forth tea than in the odor of tea, and she pays more attention to sociality compared to tea, man and tea, or the category if life. Therefore, as title of the painting goes, singing of tea is changed in its thematic in its thematic aim to singing of life. And furthermore, she with intense ardor confronts the wrong interpretation of the West that unjustly recognizes Oriental spirit as a mere play of ideas.


This consciousness is a very important understanding of reality in Baik’s art, and it is also the first step toward achieving concreteness in her work. She has made efforts to express the spiritual world of the Orient with abstract image based on color. It is the same work of many Korean artists who believed that tradition of Korean painting could be realized through simple materials such as Korean paper and ink, light coloring and heavy coloring. But the concept of medium in contemporary art that shows a variety of expression and material cannot leave matter and material all up to tradition. We have now come to realize that painting with three-dimensional space and with the concept of installation can also be a good succession of tradition. We have also come to be certain that realistic art with extended concept of genre beyond the negative pattern of ‘tableau art’ cannot but exist nowadays. For Baik, who has succeeded in achieving idiosyncratic effect by using various and complex materials on Korean paper, this recognition can serve to be a stimulus in this respect of variety and extension. However, this is totally different from the ‘extension’ of the Westerners who have early been emancipated from matter and material. That is to say, Baik’s weight in painting and that of the Western painters cannot be judged as equal either in space or in time.


Baik’s attempt on installation works clearly exposes the fact it is on the extended concept of painting. Her three – dimension work is the extension of the primary material of Korean paper. Korean paper with the concept if flatness is rolled up or folded up; it is then raised up in three – dimensional space and simple drawing is added on it. This drawing does not radicallydeviate from the boundaries of Korean ink painting. Another kind of this work is made to be outstretched and folded up like the folding screen. What is interesting here is the adoption of lantern is made in circular shape with light bulb in it; its coverlet suspends light indirectly, and thus retains the function of controlling its brightness. The speed and power of the light in electricity which is the symbol of civilization is restricted, and it is thus reproduced as appropriate image. This material is colored by Baik’s hands and is born as a circular three dimension. Viewers are induced to participate in appreciating her art, and they can touch and even kick this thing. Here electricity exists as mere instrument to dynamic force in contemporary society. Whereas kinetic art mobilizes dynamic means by using metallic materials, Baik used electricity as transmitting medium of artistry.


One of the contradictions of modernism that should be noted is that though the spirit of avant-garde it in fact denied the message of ‘representation’. The originality if art lies not in its singularity or transience but in universal sympathy. This kind of universal sentiment would not depend on complex forms of cipher but on open form of artistic language with freshness transmitted to the mass. However farther extended is artistic material, there is no art in reality that does not allow communication between the artist and the viewer. Representation is not imitation but another figure of ourselves or a digestive function that establishes exquisite equation of life and art.