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Primitive Sight and Autobiographic Inner Spirit

-JUNG Kangja's pilgrimage and the world of her recent arts

May, 2007 OH Gwangsoo | Art critic

1         Jung Kangja's public art history commenced in 1976 with <The Young Artist Union Exhibition>. This exhibition was known as the beginning of an epoch of breaking free from the overly-saturated and popular abstract art (abstract expressionism). Jung Kangja joined this exhibition of three groups as a member of <Shinjeon>. Her art was considered very controversial and revolutionary for the time. Escaping from two-dimensionality, her art became an act of freeing the artist herself from the illusion of abstract expressionism, which was limited to mere voyages to the inner world of the individual artists. Her art, like other outstanding art, showed the potential of transcending genres. After the exhibition, she actively displayed her art in performances. Regarded as one of the pioneers of artistic performance in Korea, she went abroad after she married and her work disappeared from view. In the 1980s, she returned to Korea and started to reveal her art again. She held many powerful exhibitions as if she had been withholding them in reserve for all those years, evoking amazement among the spectators.


Her world is the record of her inner-self and the perspective obtained from her own experiences. She expressed what she had seen and felt in places she traveled: Southeast Asia, South Pacific, Mexico, South America and Africa, and her resulting images reflect the exotic features and sentiments she had encountered. Her world is so unique and exceptional that it cannot be said to have germinated within the genealogy of Korean art. It is common for an artist who has graduated from an art college in Korea to be viewed as belonging to a certain artistic genealogy. Each genealogy is deemed to possess its own characteristics, e.g., academic, abstract etc. Korean art society has a pronounced culture and it is often asserted that no artist can break away from his or her genealogy. We can discern the sources of inspiration and influence a young artist has derived through specific predecessors or teachers. Considering this environment, it makes Jung Kangja more unique as she is not considered as belonging to or affected by others. By expressing her own unique voice, she exists outside the confines of any single Korean artistic genealogy. One who does not belong to a genealogy can easily be regarded as an alien. Therefore, we can imagine how hard it must have been for her to chart her own course.


The uniqueness of her artworks is evident in her choice of motifs. The source of her images came through the contact she had with the sources of her inspiration acquired from her long trips overseas. The unexpected marvels of the exotic scenes were sufficient to stimulate the artist. The encounter with new natures, new materials, and new people became a spring of inspiration that overflows in her art.


Another unique characteristic of her images is they are full of fantasy and surrealism. Fantasy and surrealism exist only in the world of dreams and are the outcome of illusion. For example, imagine a delicious apple. It looks so clear and bright but the image that has just formed in your mind is not real. It exists only in the world of illusion. In that manner, dreams and illusions can be abundant sources of expression in the world of painting. Jung Kangja's art overflows with her dreams and illusions because she is fertilized by the nutrients of pure art. In most cases, fantasy and the surreal are expressed as dark inner spirits or weird distortions of reality because they swell from the depths of our consciousness or from some indiscernible source. In contrast, we encounter bright, inspirational dreams and fantasy in Jung Kangja's art, revealing her bright and healthy perspective on the world.


2         Her art has been deeply inspired by Mexican frescos and African primitive arts. Likewise, they also suggest some of the innocent and fresh sentiments evident in early 20th century French naive art. <The Dream> the painting of a nude woman lying in a jungle by the naive painter Henri Rousseau is parodied in a most unique way by Jung Kangja. However, the energy bursting through her artworks cultivate huge dramas while she runs towards her own form that belongs to no other.


In the end, the world of painting is color and shapes. The object is only a medium. If colors and shapes are vividly expressed rather than as a motif, it means that the artwork has approached closer to the essence of painting. Jung Kangja's motifs are diverse in her paintings but in the end, only vivid colors and simple shapes remain. The contradistinction of primary colors is overpowering and carries explosive insight. More stereovision is added to the shapes. The direct and untrimmed embodiment possesses frankness and boldness as it replaces crudeness with pride. Her paintings are covered with darker fantasies as the exotic view or features intensify. She expresses the object's active liveliness of inner sight rather than its simple appearance.


Since 2004, her paintings have experienced a change that is filled with autobiographic features. She shifted her perspective from the external to the internal. Such features suggest that interest toward one's surrounding is increasing. The change of view also suggests that one has matured.


The view towards the internal objectifies oneself. She painted a prostrate woman in a forest in 2004. A nude woman expresses a more natural liveliness when she is harmonized with the forest. It shows a healthy reconciliation between herself and nature. Prostrate woman are sometimes sleeping or flying in the air. Sometimes, she comes into being from the forest like a shy Venus. Unlike Venus who was born in water, this woman is born in a forest. If the Greek mythical Venus found the source of life from water, the woman in Jung's myth found her source in a forest. This holds the pantheistic concept that human and nature co-possess an equal right to life.


3         "The smallest unit that constitutes everything in the universe is the atom. The atom's shape is circular. A line in fact is formed by many circles connected together. Therefore, a circle is the beginning of everything." This is what Jung wrote in 2005 on her exhibition pamphlet. The original form of everything she suddenly found was a circle. It implies that the origin of life is dynamic. A circle is not a still form. It constantly moves and represents liveliness. This also corresponds with the bursting energy that her artworks possess. Life is germinated by constant circulation. The circle is the beginning and end of space.


Recently, it is becoming clearer that she tries to express almost everything with circles. Circles or half-circles come together and forms specific objects. Fragmented circles and semi-circles are entangled and rise to the surface as alluding forms. They emerge as a dancing woman in Korean traditional dress or a mother and her daughter. They appear in a picture of a mother and her daughter fluttering in the shapes of circles and half-circles, and assume the form of birds flying in the sky. A circle is divided by two sides and it represents Janus' face. All images are reduced to the shapes of circles and semi-circles. They produce flamboyant scenes like flying petals, creating a delightful festival.


Fragments of circles and half-circles entangled together or push each other to create grand 'mouvement.' There are no other details, only circles and semi-circles. However, the whole picture creates another substance that embodies a dynamic order.


Currently, she uses women in Korean traditional dress as a motif. They dance gorgeously or playing the drum dynamically. Their movements produce a swirling structure. She chooses a typical Korean woman as the motif to verify the traditional Korean image as well as to discover more about her. In other words, it serves to answer her own identity. She re-confirms that her final destination of the long trip overseas was no other place but her home, Korea.


Her pictures that were previously indulged in fantastic views and customs of other countries are now permeating with the relationship between human and nature, and symbolizing the healthy harmony of pantheism and family. At last, the denotations of substances are disappearing and she is starting to move toward a peculiar ontology of fine art with its colors and shapes. Actually, her journey through art was provoked by an interest of the world outside, which shifted back to her own inner world. During this journey, she discovered fundamentally the reduction of form to circles. All converges on circles as becoming restoration. The shapes are simple and colors very vivid. They create harmony as well as mysterious order. It is the image of the Korean woman who flickers in this. So to speak, circles form harmony with Korean women and represent a great 'mouvement' and a delight of life. Life is miraculous and her artwork that shows it to be so is also miraculous.

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