Utopia Exists in the Simple Pleasure
Chun,Young-Paik (Professor, Department of Art History and Theory, Hongik University)
For a person, having a meal is something that the most fundamental and essential. No matter how rich or poor, people can only live when they take in food. Whether it is a sumptuous dine or a shabby meal, one thing for sure that a meal is just a one-off. The Empress Dowager Cixi of Qing Dynasty felt sorry for that, so she vomited what she had eaten to take 120 diverse delicacies of the world at a time. No matter how intellectually and mentally superior, people are subject to their bodies. Our stomachs have limited capacities under the physical conditions. We live through the mysterious integration of the mind and body, and the unrecognizable disconnect between the two might be the riddle only God knows.
Looking at Haru K's artworks, I feel that I'm served a well-prepared Korean meal which is full of hearty foods. His artworks, ‘Noodles in a New Era (Washin Jjampong, 2019)’ and ‘Delicious Landscape (A Delicious Trip to Busan, 2020)’ make my mouth watering. And ‘Landscape in Lunchbox (2020)’ combined a traditional landscape painting with various delicacies is also wonderful. I think his artistic attempt to transmit ‘Sense of Taste’ into ‘Visual Images’ is succeeded. Moreover, these artworks are masterpieces, so I get a feeling of fullness just by watching them.
The world classic, ‘Divine Comedy’ of Dante is famous for its nine layered circles of hell. In the third layer of Gluttony, people who were greedy on foods in their former life get punished as an unforgivable felony. The appetite which we cannot let go until the end of our lives is connected to our bodies to the last. Some people who have great willpower cut off meals by themselves, but it is not a common thing. Therefore, it would not be wrong to say that the attitude toward food represents the dignity of the person. ‘What to eat and how to eat’ says who the person is. In other word, what you have eaten makes yourself. So there might be a saying, ‘Ingestion personality’
Haru K. has been working on ‘Delicious Landscape’ series since 2012. He didn't do the ‘Delicious Landscape’ series from the beginning. He majored in traditional paintings include landscape paintings while he had undergraduate and graduate courses at Hongik University. And he acquired that Oriental aesthetics is the pursuit of spirituality and landscape painting is an expression of utopia. But the artist questioned why the utopia of the old days is not in use today. He felt the fundamental skepticism on the traditional landscape paintings. It is not because of traditional expression, but because it is not relevant to today's generation. In general, oriental painting artists feel uncomfortable with the expression method based on imitating definite form, but Haru K. has used it actively in his assembled Landscape. The superb landscape, waterfalls, old pine trees, and pavilions are put in a bowl with food, and they are served for today’s generation. He introduced the landscapes of the traditional paintings to our present lives. The hybridity he suggests takes place between the times of old and new. His pursuit of unrealistic combinations is an attempt to bring the utopia had pursued by traditional landscape paintings into modern life.
Therefore, the Core of the Haru K’s work can be seen as a combination of the spirit of traditional paintings and the materiality that makes up modern life. As I mentioned at the beginning, this can be seen as an attempt to connect the fundamental gap between the mind and the body of humans. His paintings visualizing this impossible vision can be called surreal. To say more appropriately, his work is the Utopia of Simple Pleasure. In his paintings, the food symbolizes physicality and the nature symbolizes mentality. And both of them are harmonized perfectly. I was surprised that his remarkable expression filled the gap of the delicate disconnection between spirit and matter. The most opposite elements (tradition and modernity, spirit and matter, ideals and reality, grand discourse and trivial daily life) are composed in a meal. And the artist's detailed brushwork connects the gap smoothly.
The Interesting Assembling :
The Harmony of the Eastern View and the Western View
The most important and creative aesthetic expression in Haru K’s paintings is none other than 'Assembling'. As he has given the title of "An assembled Landscape", I could read the artist’s agony. Some of his assembled composition is flat, but most of his artworks are three-dimensional. You can find out the traces of his contemplating whether to implement a multi-layered sense of space by focusing on the "three-way method" of the Oriental Paintings or to give a three-dimensional sense of depth based on the one-point perspective of the Western Paintings. Superficially, what are assembled in his paintings are considered the oriental landscape and food as motifs of his paintings. But fundamentally, what are assembled is the 'ways of seeing'. In his paintings, we can see The Harmony of the Eastern View and the Western View, which are greatly different each other.
The Western view of landscape painting is fundamentally based on the premise of the dichotomy in which the object and the subject are separated. But the oriental view in landscape painting is the view of Wayu(臥遊) which means the viewer lies down in the room and taking a walk in the scenery of the painting. I think Haru K. personalized these two different perspectives in his paintings with his own way.
So, the small humans in the paintings who were the ‘Actors of Wayu’ have been changed into modern people in his paintings. The appearances of the small characters in the traditional landscape paintings are reminiscent of classical scholars and fishermen who were free from worldly cares. The figures in Korean paintings were usually painted as a small scale and Haru K. borrowed this characters’ ratio to his Delicious Landscape. It is like a fusion drama that modernizes historical dramas based on time travel. The small characters who have changed into modern human by the artist move as if the artificial world is their reality.
Originally, in the traditional oriental painting, the landscape is described magnificent but humans appear diminutive. In the view of Taoism, all things are operated based on the Logic of Nature, and the rise and fall of human beings is no exception. However, as we entered an industrial society and an information society, human became the subject of painting and the great nature became diminutive. The landscapes on Haru K's plate let us think the Mother Nature is just like a kind of food. What supports this subversive thinking is the reduction and expansion techniques such as the "three-way method", which Haru K. learned from the Oriental Painting. For example, the eyes do not move horizontally, but move their vision following the objects.
However, there is a macroscopic perspective that looks at the lives of small characters in the Assembled Landscape, which is none other than the perspective of the viewer (artist). For example, like Gulliver in Gulliver's Travels, a "giant" who observes and intervenes in the lives of small people, the viewer standing out of the frame intervenes in the little characters’ lives as a massive object. They sometimes show their presence by suddenly putting large chopsticks into a bowl of Jjamppong (Spicy Seafood Noodle Soup), pouring tea from a giant teapot, or putting a big straw as a pillar. This represents none other than the perspective of the ‘Viewer Subject' who is watching the painting.
Therefore, there are always two basic perspectives on his painting. One is the perspective of the small people, who are the "Actors of Wayu(臥遊) " and the other one is the perspective of the ’Viewer Subject'. It can be said that the artist expressed these two views as an extreme contrast of proportion in scale. As such, the perspectives of actors in paintings in the microcosmic landscape coexist in connection with the viewer's (artist's) perspective out of the frame. This is the core structure of the assembling that the artist intends. His assembled landscape is revealed like a bonsai or reduced landscape, and there cannot be any form or fixed framework here. It can be seen that it is the free composition of the artist, which deviates from the strict form of oriental painting.
Sensory Expression: Exploration of sight, taste, and touch
Haru K. is exploring various sensibilities by expanding from his "food landscape painting" to sight and taste, as well as touch. First of all, experiments on vision are the most fundamental and diverse. In his artworks, we can see the expression of outstanding flat works and some of his flat works give the three-dimensional feelings to us. They generally trans from the former to the latter, but sometimes both coexist. It seems he has a continuous visual concern that crosses between flat and solid. His unconventional installation work in 2019, can also be understood in that way. He showed us the three-dimensional nature sketch using a 3D printer.
But the most important thing in Haru K's Exploration is the viewer's perception on scale. In his ‘Delicious Landscape’, he collected the scenes of nature where he hiked in person and edited them in small scale like bonsai. The nature in his paintings are like bonsai because the food and tableware were drawn as excessively large scale. So the landscape looks like a miniature. It disturbs our perception of vision and prevents us from deciding which is real.
However, this disturbance of perspective is not uncanny nor melancholy, as most modern art induces. Rather, it is pleasant and incisive because this is a rebellion of perspective that occurs in the realm of heavy and strict traditional painting. I think it is the biggest attraction of Haru K. who has the pleasant imagination that has reversed the common sense on scale.
In addition, the term 'Completeness' which is used in the visual expression of painting is perfectly suitable for Haru K. His paintings are difficult to discern the differences as we zoom in or out. Among his large works, there are "Delicious Landscape" (2013), "Delicious Trip of the Artist" (2017), and "The Scent of Tea" (2021). Interestingly, his work has not changed its expression or method, whether it is small or big, so the former seems to be a microcosm of the latter. As such, these are works with high Completeness in visual expression. In general, when the size of the work grows bigger, its expression tends to become loose, but Haru K.‘s artworks are still sophisticated. I think it’s because the confidence of the artist is underlying in his expression.
It goes without saying that his ‘Delicious Scenery’ awakens the Sense of Taste, but the Sense of Taste is also linked to the Food Texture. So the Sense of Touch is considered as being important in painting. For example, in "Hamburger" (2017), the soft bread, the juicy meat and the flowing texture of cheese were expressed. In "Grilled Saury" (2017), the crispy and cracked surface of grilled fish was expressed. And in the case of "Lee Ssi-Bala, Kim Ssi-Bala" (2022), the moisture of mouth watering watermelon was expressed. And in (2021), he showed us the substance of vegetables linked to the material properties of pigments as if he had started exploring the texture of ingredients. The lightly oiled green paint becomes dry spinach and oily scarlet paint becomes fresh tomatoes. It was not a description of vegetables, but vegetable itself. landscape (salad)>
However, in the expression of tactility, (2019) is the best. It is a masterpiece (227×900cm) depicting Mt. Mudeung as the symbol of Gwangju. Haru K. handled this huge mountain in a way of his what he has never done before. The Mt. Mudeung was covered with colorful blankets, which can be said to show the artist's relationship with the mountain in the most personal way. The memories of his hometown and the adoration of motherhood were expressed as warm, cozy, and fluffy blankets on Mt. Mudeung. He treated the mountain as the most friendly way covering with extremely soft textured blanket. The surface of the blanket, which seems to be touchable with the eyes, makes even the exhibition hall warming. It is difficult to find an artist who has such a good "object-relationship" with the motif of the painting. Haru K’s expressive power on sensibility brings the relationship closely. mt. mudeung>
Native Pop Art
Such richness and diversity on food comes from the saturated desires of modern consumption society. It is often flooded with addiction and excesses beyond the amounts of optimized nutrients. However, the food in the past agricultural society was completely different. The food was only consumer goods for labor. And it often became a social problem of its shortness. There once was the Barley Hump period which was short of food when barley was ripe yet. The artist has also gone through a difficult youth personally. Perhaps that's why he parodies the table of the sumptuous feast twisting the memory of lack. The greatest deficiency of human might be hunger and unfulfilled appetite. He ironically overlapped his own experiences by revealing excessively overflowing food as a form of overconsumption.
Therefore, Haru K's work can be said the ‘Pop Art of Korean Painting’. In other word, his work is Autochthonic Pop Art.' It shows an expression of our time by assembling the small isolated humans and overflowing substances, especially delicacies in landscapes. The origin of pop art did bring reality into the world of arts, and Haru K's work also reflects the reality of Korean society.
For example, the Shadow of the Loss and Chaos inside of Korean society which was created during the stormy Growth is in his artworks. The artist's autobiographical history might be revealed. The scenery of conflicting between the old agricultural society with the saturated desires of the industrial society is consistently shown in his artwork. The viewer should not miss this part.
As a pop artist, Haru K. reflects the contemporary social interests. He addressed the pandemic situation as a topic of work recently. For example, the use of disposable lunch boxes is one of the reasons why COVID-19 has changed our way of eating. And this motif can be seen in his "Pack a Landscape" (Mr. H's Lunch Box 1) (2020). The Delicious Landscape packed in a plastic container seems to show the sorrow of our generation. In his recent works, he does new attempt that are more representative of linguistic humor. For example, in the Ssi Bala series, little creatures work hard to pick seeds from pumpkins and watermelons. Ssi Bala means “picking seeds out of fruit” in Korean, but the expression also sounds a lot like a Korean swear word. Through his artworks like (2022) and (2022) he induces a dynamic intersection between words and images using the duality of Hangul. And they are unique with the beauty of bright emotions, not negative sarcasm. bwara, (see if i fall for you)> ssi-bala, kim ssi-bala>
The Taste of Haru’s Brushstroke :
Not Hyperrealism of Reproduction, But Imaginary Painting
Artists who majored in Oriental painting enjoy using the technique of detailed polychrome paintings. In the craze of monotonous color abstraction, he has immersed in his own 'Way of Drawing'. His brushstroke is completely different from the hyperrealism of the oriental painting area that appeared a lot in 1980s. What he elaborated is none other than the imaginary world. Can it be possible to draw a dream in that detail? In his paintings, the dreamy world is expressed as if it were real. It is not a photographic copy of the original, but the representation of the imaginary.
The virtue of this work is, above all, the labor of his 'Way of Drawing' with traction and persistence. The disappearing oriental painting techniques today are summoned by him. In other words, the artist is showing the 'Taste of Painting' with his absolute description ability which his DNA has. Although he was educated in Seoul, he captures the traces of the earth and wind of southern area where he was born and raised. His grandfather had used to collecting oriental artworks, and thanks to that he could encounter the works of famous artists like Euijae(의재), Namnong(남농), and Sochi(소치) from his early age. Therefore it might be natural for him to major in oriental painting. The taste of brushstroke with his extremely precise descriptions seems to be inherited the vein of "Honam Namhwa(A Chinese painting style of Southern Area)" centered on ink-and-wash, which was prevalent in Gwangju and Jindo in the past.
Realistic Imagination Paintings for communication
For his ‘Delicious Landscapes’ series, Haru K. climbs mountains to sketch objects, and he describes what he has tasted at the place. His work deals with both traveling and its local food. The collected part of a landscape that he saw in person is put in a bowl with the images of stones and trees like a bonsai. And the food that he tasted are painted with giving the feeling of reality. It means, the artist embodies a reality based on extremely personal experiences, and it can be said that he presents his own "ideal" through the process of reorganizing the collection and editing. Thus, his artwork is to convert the reality that he actually experienced into an imaginary painting.
Interestingly, Haru K. has no negative views on the traditional landscape paintings. He has just tried to find the modern people‘s ideals in the midst of the way how they treat nature. Visitors don’t feel any burdened to be shared the daily happiness of Mr. K. Because the innocent joy of sharing a hearty meal served by his paintings are only for the visitors. In his Delicious Landscape series, we can hardly find the futility of life of the Dutch Vanitas still life paintings that attract the eyes of us.
The ideal of modern people presented by Haru K. seems feasible for anybody. If the Small but Certain Happiness could be possible from a delicious meal a day, why don’t we enjoy our own Simple Pleasure as his paintings induce. Right Away let’s enjoy the table in front of us without forgetting the capacities of our stomachs. Slowly and Deliciously.