When I notice a coldness hidden under a calm and natural appearance, I feel torn whether I may think it over seriously or I just let it go beyond my memory as a scenery I usually pass by. But this inner conflict is in fact futile. If I couldn’t disregard it at a first glance, I won’t be able to forget it anyway. This world is so used to cruelty and apathy that we don’t easily stop to pity others. However, there are some moments we can’t help but feeling certain sympathy. Even though we want to overlook such a thing as a mere view seen through the car window, it keeps recurring from the bottom of our heart. Through the works of the artists Mirae Park and Niall Craven, I encounter that kind of thoughts that they couldn’t just throw beyond the memory, the images derived from those thoughts, and a different but similar attitude of the two artists toward those objects.
A living thing has its unique appearance to express its nature and its own habits that are necessary for survival. The artist Mirae Park describes in her works the life situation that many animals and plants are facing. It looks peaceful at a first sight, but some sad and absurd reasons come to intervene, and the artist expresses her thoughts about them through the concrete and the abstract in her works. The numerous stray cats in cities or the sea creatures raised either as ornamental elements in an aquarium or even destined to be consumed as seafood, learn and accept their way of living just to stay alive in this artificial harshness. Deers, with no sharp teeth or venom, can only run away to survive in the law of the jungle, or protect themselves only with their antlers on the head. Situation for relatively upper predator such as wolves or bears is not more favorable. Their strong points including sharp teeth, power and threatening long claws are only the features to compensate their week points such as their need to hunt in group for their herd and their lack of agility due to their big body.
The visual aspect and the behavior of animals doing their best to live their harsh reality are expressed in the concrete part in Mirae Park’s frame. On the other hand, their impossibility to say what they want, to cry out all their wrath externally, and so their inward fierceness of desire for life meet the artist’s desire for expression and inner serenity attained during her work process, and they create individual dynamics and arbitrary forms in her frame. In her oil paintings, the accent created from the unique color combination and usage of brush in the non-concrete part of the canvas is manifested in shape of convergence and divergence, or of a sudden interruption in the middle of a dynamic feature. In the entire frame, we can see various parts swirling, smashing down, soaring up, then suddenly calm all at the same time. This characteristic of change in a work with the animal as object enables us to approach the theme of the work from diverse perspectives. This singularity appears even more obviously in the work <Nowhere to Hide> presented in this exhibition. The beauty of colors, the sadness in the animals’ image and the sensation created by the usage of brush embracing the animals are so intense that the viewers are invited to empathize with the emotions that the artist might have had toward the object.
The artist paints animals on the canvas but she doesn’t try to be loyal to the social association, the basic aesthetics (the general definitions on the beauty of a specific animal). Rather than that, she seems not to be able to turn her face away from their hardship of survival, which is not a question of living a better life, but just all about saving themselves from the threat of death. Wouldn’t she keep constantly her concern about them in somewhere in her mind? In solitude of a sleepless night, in a sentiment of a poem recited from a podcast, the animals appear and create a fable to allegorize a scene from a human life; they can be myself in another appearance. The works such as <Bears>, <Night Watcher> and <The Cow> narrate the artist’s own experiences from her daily life through realistic description. Especially, <The Cow>, inspired from a reading of the poem of the poet Gitaek Kim, is presented in this exhibition with the original poem. This work makes us feel like a cow, or the image of the cow in the poem might reflect the stifling reality we face.
In spite of different forms of each work, the intensity of lines throughout all her works and a lyricism responding to it remain tenaciously in the viewer’s mind. This would be eventually echoing to the viewer the emotional trajectory of the artist who can’t help but recalling those objects and painting them.
To describe a human body in a medical book or magazine, certain ‘objectivity’ is required to satisfy the medical purpose. The body documented with physical data, forms and scientific terms exists only as a medical case, without recognition of any dignity as a human being who has lived an actual life. The artist Niall Craven has grown up in a family background that favors him to approach easily to many medical books. Wounds and diseases, the related situations and human bodies treated as a mere image have had a great influence on the artist. In his early works, we can witness the bodies with more realistically described wounds, but gradually the expression of the bodies has become simpler, the shape more liberal. Signs are added on the image, and the artist’s feelings toward the object seem to predominate sometimes the shape itself. The main objects of his works have been evolved from the limbs to torso, then to hands and feet in another meaning in the recent works. Lately, the shapes are more abstract and we can’t see any obvious shape of an open wound, organs, bones and muscles, but mysteriously, we get to imagine physical sensation out of those implicit forms.
The artist approaches the objectified body with a subjective attitude. If he could have seen the bodies photographed or drawn in the medical books just as a scientific case, his works would have been quite different. Intervention of a subjective viewpoint is inevitable, because those objects are something from which he could not turn his face away. But seeing the changes that his works have been through so far, we can understand he is now facing the theme with a closer contact to the object. The body, even photographed for an objective purpose, also belongs to someone. The owner of that damaged body should have lived many experiences full of emotions, and have felt more or less pain. An explanation of the artist suggests us his perspective on the object: he says, when an unknown species of fish is discovered, a scientific drawing with accurate description of the fish is not a holistic explanation of that being. We need an imagination of what the fish has actually experienced in the ocean, to get a more thorough understanding and fathoming than the scientific knowledge. When I first saw his works, the first impression coming to my mind was “these works try to fathom the (physical/emotional) pain”. It may be connected to such attitude of the artist himself.
The torso works and the drawings with lines, colors and signs in this exhibition keep their common characteristic of beautiful colors, but show some changes in the usage of lines and brush. The works drawn exclusively with black lines reveal the strength of lines, different from that of surfaces. The latest works are small in scale, but have more characters of a painting than a drawing. The body is expressed by unclosed lines on the surface covering the background. The signs such as grids, used as a kind of expression of certain emotion toward the object in his earlier works, are now located sometimes outside the body as a background. The artist seems to assign more importance to the background, and it is more obvious in the latest works where we can see a remarkable change in colors. <Figure Lying on a Bed> and <Figure on Stool> portray respectively a foot in a lying posture and hands put together. The artist says he first painted the shapes on the entire surface, then covered most of the background surface with one color, leaving only a small part, such as hands or feet, uncovered. So the viewer sees hands or feet, but can’t see the situation surrounding those hands and feet. More meaning of the works are expressed in the covered background than the uncovered objects.
When I was working on the English title of this joint exhibition of two artists, I asked the opinion of the artist Niall Craven whose mother tongue is English. Would there be a term or an expression in English, which is close to the Korean title, meaning literally ‘impossible to disregard’? After a long list of possible candidates, he eventually suggested the word ‘Confrontation’. This word is particularly interesting when we think about the changes in his works. I thought the similar, but different attitude toward the object of two artists is expressed even in this Korean and English title of the exhibition.
In this exhibition, the artists are not seeking for an accurate description of the object, but showing two different aspects of reviving in their artworks the object that they can’t disregard. Mirae Park’s works, either the oil paintings with the coexistence of concrete and abstract, dynamic and immobile, or the conte and charcoal works with an outstanding quality of description containing intensity and lyricism, are born at an unexpected moment of a daily life, then gaining more and more depth. Niall Craven’s works demonstrate an impressive evolution in their formal aspect from drawing to painting, through changes of colors, lines and surfaces. We can also witness an emotional and psychological flow in his works, created by his constant efforts for the confrontation with the image of the objects arousing sympathy and pity in our mind.
by Kim Gi-taek
The cow’s big eyes want to tell me something,
but I don’t have ears to hear.
All of her words are inside her eyes.
Though words well up, nearly falling like tears
I know she cannot express them outwardly.
She cries, wrenching out her heart, handful by handful,
but in her eyes the words do not budge.
For thousands of years she has locked the words inside
and she just blinks her eyes.
Ah, such an innocent, round prison!
Not knowing what else to do
the cow brings back the grass from her stomach that she chewed many times,
and chews the cud over to grind, swallow, retrieve, and grind again.
Poem translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid