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Kwon Ki-soo --- A playground of interpretation
 

Born and based in Seoul, Kwon Ki-soo works in a wide range of media, including painting, sculpture and video. He is primarily known for his creation of Dongguri, a character that frequently appears in his work. Although human-shaped, Dongguri is an icon formed by certain marks and symbols; a by-product of modernization in which everything is symbolized, simplified, and mechanical. Dongguri has gained wide appeal in contemporary art circles and has also been used commercially (not necessarily according to the artist・s intentions). The character・s popularity probably came about because it appeals to a younger generation that readily consumes and reproduces popular culture.

Because of his use of pop language and materials and Dongguri・s flexible application to commercial markets, Kwon・s art has often been classified as Neo-Pop (1). This classification, however, does not seem to adequately describe Kwon・s work. Instead, more emphasis should be placed on the range of meanings and emotions Dongguri conveys, forging a link between artist and audience.
Certainly, Kwon・s art is not all about Dongguri and extends beyond his often used and much admired symbol. He has continuously created innovative designs, marrying ultra-modern elements with old traditions. He draws on tradition as a means of expressing modern sensitivity, a feature found in his most recent paintings. Kwon・s reinvention of classical Korean motifs might be a natural extension of his study of traditional Korean art, but it is also interesting that his works contain coded messages hidden in layers beneath the surface of the art itself.

The artist・s favourite motifs, such as plum blossoms, orchids, chrysanthemum and bamboo are drawn from traditional sumi painting. These four plants, fundamental artistic motifs in sumi painting, are also symbolic representations of a scholarly life and of literati culture (2). Each represents one of the four seasons: plum blossom for spring, orchid for summer, chrysanthemum for autumn and bamboo for winter. Like the sumi painters, Kwon uses these motifs as symbols, however, his paintings may be better described in terms of traditional sansui (landscape) painting. Rather than copying nature, sansui painters use form and technique to express their own concept of it. For them, the transcendent values of nature and the universe are not to be conquered but are an innate attitude, the order and reason of which should be studied and followed. Sansui painters express transcendent values by forgoing a visual imitation of what is seen as reality, seeking meanings in the unseen world. Sansui is, therefore, more than a technique; it is a symbol, a paradigm and a fundamental concept.  
Kwon・s recent paintings reflect his continuing use of Korean traditions; in particular, the symbolism of sansui. In his :Forest; series (2008), numerous vertical poles represent a bamboo forest, with stem sections marked by colourful ribbons. Dongguri sits on a cube among the bamboo. The cube, in this case, represents a rock X a significant object in traditional Korean painting and literati culture, prized for its abstract qualities. With its conventional shape and colour removed, the valued symbol is given a fresh beginning in Kwon・s work.

Another traditional motif is transformed in Kwon・s works of :Fountain; series (2008). Here, the water fountains symbolize a variety of orchid shapes. Although the lines appear simple and free-flowing, they are actually positioned according to the strict conventions of the traditional sansui style. Rippling water, a recurring theme in the artist・s work, also recalls a common theme in Asian culture X radiating energy. 
:See the red forest; series (2008) is particularly interesting because in the painting, Dongguri only appears its face along with blossoming plum flowers. Plum blossoms were much loved and frequently used in the literati tradition as a symbol of endurance X the plant bears fruit throughout winter and is the first to blossom in spring. The artist gives special meaning to this and also uses the blossom as a signifier of beauty.

In 2003, Kwon Ki-soo created a video animation :Plum blossoms around a cottage V visiting a friend on a snowy day;, which tells the story of visiting a friend early in spring, when the first plum blossoms appear. The rather silly but nonetheless adorable Dongguri appears as both the host and the visitor. The painting in the background is by Koran Jungi (1825V54), one of the most important artists of the late Joseon dynasty (1392V1910). The theme of this painting was conventionally used in sansui to display a natural harmony between seasonal changes and the poetic nature of literati culture. In his video animation, the artist converts a form of art considered traditional and highbrow into something contemporary and cheerful. 
We could realize the artist・s latest experiment from his recent works: :Spherical World - Red; (2008) is painted directly on aluminum to create an expressive joy and a round perfection similar to jade ring; In :Square Forest;, a small boat flows between chromatic glister and shadow; tons of rainbow cubes pile up a splendid fairyland. The most epochal and meaningful works are the series of :Flying;. First, the design on the canvas become very simple, and the decorative elements surrounding are missing. Dongguri is patternized and displayed repetitively in big or small sizes. Although the works describe Dongguri sitting on the airplane, two of these elements are painted in same scale and become a united image. Besides, the structure of parallel visual line presents sense of motion and speed. In general most scenes with airplane are accompanied with nervousness of combat aircrafts. However Dongguris・ plane team just presents joy and happiness. Moreover, by studying profoundly the works, we could more understand the highly talented creation concept of the artist. In the aspect of the theme, the symbolic meanings of eastern tradition that the artist has been pursuing until now, is replaced by more universal thematic significance and more extensive artistic space which surpass the single specific culture. This daring breakthrough not only reflects the artist・s confidence for himself, but also strengthens and advances his position in the art field, obtaining widely known admiration.

Through his work, Kwon Ki-soo continually explores traditional themes and values, which he adapts and incorporates into contemporary art forms. His art is characterized by a creative grafting of past spiritualism onto contemporary materialism, molded into symbols and icons. Through multiple layers of symbolism and meaning, Kwon offers viewers a playful interpretation of a world where lightness and heaviness can coexist. 

(1) Neo-Pop, a movement of the 1980s, is characterised by popular iconography and applies mass media communication techniques to "package" complex ideas for a wider audience.
(2) The literati were the intellectual elite in Korea. Becoming a member of this class involved rigorous study of Confucian texts and ancient poetry and the disciplined practice of calligraphy to pass difficult bureaucratic examinations for government service.

 

Kim Sun-hee
Art Director of Creative Center of Bund 18, Shanghai,
and a guest curator of Mori Art Museum, Tokyo.

 
 
Flying - 2
2008@130 x 194cm
Acrylic on canvas on board
 
 
Blow off-meditation
2008@116.5 x 194cm
Acrylic on canvas on board
 
 
See the silver forest
2008@40 x 150cm
Acrylic on canvas on board
 
 
See the red forest
2008@40 x 150cm
Acrylic on canvas on board
 
 
Silver fountain
2008@91 x 116.5cm
Acrylic on canvas on board
Red fountain
2008@91 x 116.5cm
Acrylic on canvas on board
 
 
Black forest
2008@130 x 194cm
Acrylic on canvas on board
 
 
Red forest-rest
2008@130 x 194cm
Acrylic on canvas on board
 
 
Profound Simplicity
 

What is Dongguri? Dongguri is almost a popular worldwide new vocabulary. :You are so Dongguri!;has become an expression of happy, considerate, warm, humorous, and wise. Everyone wants to be Dongguri, and could become Dongguri, to bring the shining smile and energy to himself, as well as to others.
Dongguri is artist Kwon Kisoo・s primary character in his painting. The human-shaped figure formed with simplified but symbolic black lines, makes everyone smile while seeing it. Furthermore, Dongguri is accompanied with highly colorful background; flourish flowers and straight boles similar to fireworks fill out the fantasia forest, drawing the colors of various emotions. Simple but rich, vivid and still elegant.
Dongguri・s world is just like your and my world. He would take walk in the forest, think when sitting on the rock, be inspired in the water, fly in the dream, even rowing and swingK and it also has a lovely dog and other very :Dongguri :friends following. Dongguri・s world is full of infinite happiness, as well as wisdom beyond humor, and through Dongguri, Kwon Kisoo well presents his life philosophy of :profound simplicity;.
The concept of :Profound simplicity; makes every Kwon・s work a poem, a modern free-verse poem however combining the lyric disposition of ancient poetry. It just nicely reflects the personal characteristic of Kwon・s artworks, to represent innovative modernism with traditional thought of Korean literati culture. His use of pop language creates animate varieties in the extremely accurate patterns. The conflict between irregularity and methodical order gives Kwon・s artworks the poetic attraction similar to Cheng Chou-Yi・s verse :da-da of horse・s roof;, tasty and pregnant with meaningful scenes.
The similar-shaped flowers in different sizes, one of Kwon Kisoo・s most representative totems, magically spread into the vertical forest; therefore a space of wide profundity is created, just like the immense sky with shining star river across. Kwon・s recent artworks present even richer contents and forms; :Spherical World - Red; (2008) is painted directly on aluminum to create an expressive joy and a round perfection similar to jade ring; In the series of :Flying;, the artist displays an unconventional visual charm by switching colors of red, green and purple to show irregular diversities in the well-ordered structure. In :Square Forest;, a small boat flows between chromatic glister and shadow; tons of rainbow cubes pile up a splendid fairyland; the rippling of water is the extension of adorable dimples on Dongguri・s smile. :Flame Flower V The Red River; and :The Silver River; present a rather profound space by wandering rivers curving into the depth beyond the forest. The visual layers have been greatly enriched.

It is an unearthly paradise. Through Dongguri・s pure smile, Kwon Kisoo take us into a wonderland, there we free our mind, learn forgiveness, calm down the thoughts, get away from chaos of the reality, and then, we will be able to regain the energy to depart again!
 

Celia Huang
2008, June, 1st

 
Flying - green
2008@130 x 130cm
Acrylic on canvas on board
Flying - red
2008@130 x 130cm
Acrylic on canvas on board
Flying - purple
2008@130 x 130cm
Acrylic on canvas on board
 
 
Spherical world-red-2
2008@Diameter 120 cm
Acrylic on aluminum
Spherical world-red-2
2008@Diameter 120 cm
Acrylic on aluminum
 
 
The silver river
2008@130 x 130cm
Acrylic on canvas on board
Playing flowers in the silver forest
2008@130 x 130cm
Acrylic on canvas on board
 
 
Floral melody - blue
2008@117 x 73cm
Acrylic on canvas on board
 
 
Rest on the box
2008@91 x 72.5cm
Acrylic on canvas on board
Rest on the box
2008@91 x 72.5cm
Acrylic on canvas on board
 
 
Flame flower - the red river
2008@130 x 130cm
Acrylic on canvas on board
Walking in the blue forest
2008@130 x 130cm
Acrylic on canvas on board
 
 
walking in the flowers on the stone
2008@91 x 72.5cm
Acrylic on canvas on board
 
 
A flower garden
2007 ~ 2008@123(h) x 130 x 30cm
steel and plexiglass painted with acrylic and urethane
Edition 2/5
Square forest
2008@130 x 130cm
acrylic on canvas on board