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The World of Emptiness using Ink and Wash

- Focusing on Kim, Hyunkyung's Bamboo Paintings-

△Oh, Sekweon (Art Critic, Professor of Daejin University)


Ink and wash painting, as an important expression in Korean painting, has coexisted with ink and color painting for a long time. While ink and color paintings were done by artisans including court painters, ink and wash paintings were enjoyed and developed by the scholar gentry class, thus forming compatible structure of ink and wash and ink and color paintings. Along the way, ink and wash paintings became an important means of expression. The expression of Korean painting, under the conviction that Oriental spirit was inherent especially in the expression of ink and wash, had to be armed with the spirit of ink and wash, and ink and wash paintings were attempted to reflect Korean spirit.


In the meantime, in the first half of the 1980s, ink and wash painting was thriving in the field of Korean painting. As ink and color painting was perceived to be influenced by Japanese painting while passing through Japanese occupation period, ink and wash painting, which could be immune to the direct effect of Japanese painting, became the mainstream of modern Korean painting and had its golden age in the 1980s, with various experiments and expression methods appearing.


The expression using ink and wash has diminished lately. The expression of Korean painting is changing with the times. But there are a lot of painters who produce their works, thinking the expression of ink and wash as the center of creativity in the expression of Korean paintings. Among them, Kim, Hyunkyung is the painter who works thinking ink and wash painting as the heart of the expression of Korean painting.


Hyunkyung's works are the subject about bamboo and show the world of 'emptiness and tranquility', using ink and wash as materials of expression. 'Emptiness' here is used to mean that the painter empties her mind and her surroundings when devising works of art. She depicts various images of bamboo that naturally come to her while meditating quietly and emptying her mind, getting out of things around. And she says about 'emptiness' that emerges in the harmony of blank space. That is, Kim expresses 'emptiness through meditation' and 'emptiness using blank space' in her creative work.


She embodies in her works of art the liveliness of nature with bamboo. She tries to describe the sturdiness and balance of the liveliness of nature with a grove of bamboos growing upwards rather than depiction of each bamboo. Kim says about this, "......I capture Nature on drawing paper. Chief of all, the subject matter is a bamboo grove. As I follow up to bamboo stalks growing upwards, my eyes already reach the sky. The sky blends in with bamboos. And I happen to think I myself is a part of Nature, too...... I close my eyes and listen motionlessly. I hear the noise of wind, the sound of bamboo leaves rustling in the wind, the song of birds, and the sound of insects invisible. I have become one bamboo tree while I am closing my eyes for a while. Emptying my heart and assimilating with Nature with no definite idea, I used to lose myself......I depict the images of a bamboo grove in ink and wash. I try to draw the light shining through a bamboo grove, the sound of bamboo leaves rustling, and the bamboos dancing in the wind, using delicate variations of ink and wash."


We can see here Hyunkyung has bamboo symbolizing the image of Mother Nature and expresses it in ink and wash. We can understand that the bamboo depicted is the image of Nature that the form blends in with the sound of the wind, which she experienced through meditation with her eyes closed on the ground.


Kim's paintings show the images of bamboo in a specific way, or somewhat in the abstract with its ill-defined shapes. Bamboos generally form a grove. There are also some works portraying bamboos that manifest the energy of new life and grow skywards, or sway in the wind. And the stream of light that the sunshine seems to penetrate through a thick grove of bamboo, is expressed as blank space, the blank space that is felt like mist in a bamboo grove, seems to be formed, and the silhouette of bamboos that seem to be seen through a window, is also depicted dimly.


Furthermore, a dual structure that abstract shapes and detailed ones coexist in one drawing paper, is also represented in her works of art. And the echoes and breaths of Nature are inherent in dark part of painting and manifest liveliness. Since bamboos are depicted in ink and wash, making harmony with blank space by variations of ink and wash is the key of whole composition of a painting.


Meanwhile, the concept of emptiness was initially presented as the one of the ways of self-cultivation in Taoism and the first instance was “Attain the ultimate emptiness, Hold on to the truest tranquility“ in Chapter 16 of Lao Tzu. The state of 'emptiness and tranquility' in Lao Tzu is a conclusion to which all things in the universe grow and return. It is meant to be in a state of the relinquishment of all worldly desires and obsession with knowledge and the serene contemplation of the world, and also a state of "not-doing yet there is nothing it doesn't do". It argues that one gains her/his liberty in the true sense of the word and tastes the boundary of Tao only if remains in 'empty and tranquil' state. And Chuang Tzu, following Lao Tzu, developed further Lao Tzu's discussion of 'emptiness and tranquility' and carried it to aesthetic level, thereby establishing it as one of the important categories of Chinese Classical Aesthetics.


Kim, Hyunkyung adopted the notion of 'emptiness and tranquility' in her creation and reinterpreted it. Conceiving an idea of creating, she sits and meditates in silence, forgetting peripheral issues. She tries to express on her works of art the vague images that emerge once in a while during meditating. She portrays plainly in ink and wash especially the images of the bamboo which has been depicted as a subject of her works for a long time. Moreover, she tries to render bamboo as 'emptiness' by erasing reversely the images of bamboo. She also tries to express 'emptiness' by appropriately representing the balance of ink and wash and blank space in her paintings. And even blank space is described as 'emptiness' naturally rather than intendedly.


As mentioned above, Kim, Hyunkyung pursues the world of emptiness and tranquility through ink and wash, taking bamboo as a subject matter. The creative method of emptiness that fuses the emptiness with blank space and portrays it harmoniously in her works, will further deepen and expand her expression of ink and wash.

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