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Modernistic Literati Painting Achieved by Exquisite Variations
in Tonality and Shading of Ink and Wash

△Shin, Hangseup, Art Critic



Kim is also exploring the possibilities for a new interpretation of the Four Gentlemen or literati painting. And she uses four picture materials including paper, water, inkstone, and brush. Like this, her work uses the Four Gentlemen as its subject matter, and same materials as the ones for them, so solidarity with tradition is inevitable. As shown in her works of art, however, the traditional technique unfolding the standard forms is largely ignored. It means this is a new challenge to and a new way of understanding of literati painting. She displays determination to open up the prospects of a new concept of the Four Gentlemen or literati painting which meet the sense of the times, and expand its horizons, by breaking the formulaic drawing techniques.


Her work actually deals with only two plants, plum blossom and bamboo among the four noble plants. Among them, she focuses on bamboo. For bamboo has morphological characteristics, sleek and upright stem and branch, and shape of leaf commensurate with them. The bamboo that has the image of straight lines can be said to be the closest material to modern formativeness. Above all things, it is fairly easy to interpret the linear form of bamboo by its formative elements, according to contemporary painting in which geometric images become mainstream.


She may be conscious of such beauty of form that bamboo has. This speculation is identified immediately in her works of art and supported by the pictures dominated with the powerful image of straight lines. On her paintings, there are innumerable lines crossing the picture vertically with proper arrangement of dark and light ink. Besides, with horizontal image being added to the vertical image, they also show the composition of pictures that verticality and horizontality intersect. Those vertical images are presented in the form of fine lines or plane figures. Come to think of it, the vertical images drawn with ink and wash have rather pure geometric nature. In other words, it is not easy to find a direct connection with bamboo in specific shape. Because the pure geometric elements, not the image of bamboo, are fully emphasized in the images of lines.


But if you peer into the picture, those vertical geometric images are being segmented. A figurative feature is manifested in the segmented images, which is reminiscent of the knots of bamboo. It is obvious that she expresses those segmented images with the knots of bamboo in mind. And a bit indistinctly touched bamboo leaves also expose a linear image. As you can imagine from this, the geometric pattern of verticality and horizontality is the metamorphosis and reinterpretation of bamboo. The bamboo is led into a whole new world by her adoption of the modern formativeness which is nothing to do with traditional drawing techniques.


What the plane images of bamboo account for half of the picture is difficult to be accepted as a simple formative interpretation. The plane image symbolizes bamboo, and is the composition element of the picture as well. Consequently, the stalk of bamboo provides the pattern of geometric composition, and also becomes the basis of variations in forms. Thus, the picture combines the images of bamboo and geometric plane into one formative concept. Such formative interpretation is allowed as contemporary aesthetics.


The formulaic images of the Four Gentlemen are rarely found in her works of art. It seems that bamboo, one of the four plants of the Four Gentlemen, merely provides her with a material for modern formativeness. Of course, as mentioned earlier, the symbolic characteristics that the four gracious plants of the Four Gentlemen have can not be disregarded. For she takes the symbolism of the Four Gentlemen in terms of semantic content, namely intrinsic value. At any rate, bamboo is interpreted as a whole new image through the meeting with modern formative methods.


In her recent work, plum blossom, one of the four plants of the Four Gentlemen, begins to appear, along with bamboo. The plum blossom, in common with bamboo, is reinterpreted by modern formative methods. As plum blossom itself has curved lines rather than straight ones, and bent forms, however, the appropriate formativeness for its feature is being sought. Since the image of the blossom is the center of picture, curved images rather than straight lines become the heart of the picture. The shape of it is, however, still obfuscated. Therefore, we can see she is trying to grope for a new formative language and an interpretation of space, not to seek for the forms of plum blossom. Geometric image is declining in a series of works featuring plum blossom. As formative interpretation is given to the fetal shape instead, the picture is changed to a soft and gentle image focusing on curves. As abstract washes in light ink are faintly arranged together with plum blossom, slender straight lines, which appear to be plum branches with blossom, mingle partly. And in some way, the image of dark ink that seem to be plum stump, dominates the picture. Here the image of plum stump expressed with dark ink holds a dominant position in the picture composed of variations in tonality.


Thus, she opens our eyes to possibilities of her own independent world of formativeness through the modernized interpretation of plum blossom by the medium of the harmony produced by tonality of ink and wash. It can be said in that, in her work of the stump of plum tree depicted with dark ink, she not only borrows and reinterprets the material of the Four Gentlemen simply in modernized image, but also presents a way of contemporary literati painting in the true sense. It cannot not be ignored that her work serves as an opportunity to provide a new formativeness, though the condition has not been fully ripe. Establishing techniques and sophistication are the key. This matter can be resolved fully with the amount of work increased.


Plum blossom is quite different from bamboo in terms of form and feature. So, she clearly realizes a fact that a different formative approach from the one for bamboo, is required. The formative changes can be much more diverse as the image of plum blossom consists of curves, not straight lines. We can actually witness much softer and freer flow in the composition of picture or in its formative interpretation in her works of plum blossom. In addition, if more careful analysis and reinterpretation on a stump of plum tree are made, I think, her own sense of formality can be produced. It can be recognized as her personal achievement in common challenge of the modernization of literati painting.


Now let me summarize the meaning behind the formative aspect in her works. Bamboo and plum blossom, the materials of the Four Gentlemen, are accepted as a medium or means to reveal her own inner world. She portrays her impression, opinion, and the world of thoughts in metaphors, allusions, and symbols, borrowing those materials, not looking for literati painting. Therefore, in a certain way, her paintings may represent the growth of mind and emotion received through communion with nature. She would become truly a part of nature, observing or corresponding to, and perceiving invisible changes as well as very slight energy of nature that only animals and plants can sense. With her aesthetic sensibility aimed for the world of the infinitesimal like this, she may be dreaming of her own shelter somewhere in the world of the modernized literati painting built up by very subtle variations in tonality and shading of ink and wash.

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