List

Dot, line, plane as sensory elements

 

Sungwon Kim (curator, professor at Seoul National university of Science and Technology)

 

In contemporary art, the practice of artists consists of planning a system where their objects or images can evolve within a fixed structure, before even reaching the step of completing these objects and images. The contents and the format of artworks are gradually built during the process of planning activities of these objects or images. In other words, today’s artistic activity follows several steps: conceiving a project, making plans to realize it and operating the system for a productive union between every component of the artwork. In this context of contemporary art, painting is also not an exception. Today, the critical approach toward painting might consist of examining the present state of the medium among all the changes and contributing new values to it. In this context, today’s painting asks us a question slightly different from the past. Before, we had focused on the subject of an artwork, but now, we are more interested in what decides the realm of an artwork and by what kind of gesture the realm of an artwork is created. We also question how an artwork shows the limits of its realm, if it leaves traces of such research or what is the contour of this territory. As the territory replaces the subject in artworks, the importance on understanding the process became bigger. Instead of questioning what is painted, we focus on the artist’s way of making plans, what system he/she operates to support them and the way the artist’s logics and formats are activated in the system.

The reason why I find Seungtaik Jang’s artwork interesting is that he rather questions how to make a painting than what to paint and he keeps trying multiple experiments to answer that question. “ There are two questions in painting. One is to find what painting is and the other one is to find out how to make it.”, the question raised by Frank Stella a half-century ago, seems to be still valid to understand ‘painting’ today. Stella’s question on ‘what is the essence of painting’ finally led him to work with the minimum or absolute elements of painting such as color and plane. This two dimensional work brought the birth of unique ‘objects’, exceeding its limit of representing reality, furthermore, the painting itself. The adventure of painting started with Stella makes today’s painters think about how to compose the screen and how to make it rather than what to represent on canvas. Seungtaik Jang exactly focuses on this matter of painting - ‘how’. He is a rare artist who has devoted himself on ‘making painting’, creating two dimensional works for more than twenty years.

Questions as ‘what to make with’ or ‘how to make’ differ fundamentally from ‘what to paint’ and ‘how to paint’. It doesn’t mean the format is prior to the contents. It means the format becomes the contents. Seungtaik Jang’s painting endlessly continues to experiment in search for the state where the format and the contents become perfectly united.

In early 90s, before quitting brushes and canvas, Seungtaik Jang’s painting was going through the phase of abstracting the afterlife in memory of his father’s death. Rather violent painterly gestures and the space mixed with black, grey and white colors maximized abstractness of death, despair and spirits. Since then, his exploration on abstractness manifested through different characters of substances/materials instead of painterly means. In 1993, he firstly started to apply various materials like resin, wax or paraffin, therefore, the techniques changed. During this period, he made a frame on the panel and poured boiled wax mixed with colors and oil. He repeated several times the process of pouring different color on the hardened surface. The frame became a semi-opaque surface with a mixture of various colors. On the last step, he finished the surface with a flamethrower. In other words, he started to ‘make’ paintings. This seemingly-painting-object, a ‘painting-object’ in between painting and sculpture was born. Since, he continues his research on ‘painting-object’ by using plexiglass, oil or polyester films.

The texture created on the surface during the process of smudging oil on a sheet of plexiglass by hands or a roller shows his way of capturing light within the two dimensional work. In this piece, the appopriate use of plexiglass, the gesture and oil colors seems to be applied to focus on the subject of ‘reflection of light’. The effect of unexpected colors was created as the light projected on the surface of the plexiglass painted in several layers of colors encountered and reflected different colors painted on the bottom side of the surface. Since then, he conceived other ‘painting-objects’ in more elaborated ways maximizing the space of the frame through circulation of light. He fixes the stack of several polyester films where holes are cut out with glass or mirror, and attaches a hologram sheet on the backside. Entitled as ‘Poly-Painting/Poly-Drawing’ by the artist, the works created by the accumulation of and circulation between the surface and space, light and color, and various substances opened a new chapter in Seungtaik Jang’s painting.

As everyone knows, light is a decisive element turning a flat surface into a space, and a plane color into multiple colors in Seungtaik Jang’s artwork. In his Poly-Painting/Poly-Drawing series, he created very unique methods in terms of technical aspects. However, the most interesting part in this series is that he created a unique space for light, the most immaterial, ever-changeable element. The playful characteristics of light emphasize the materiality of the artwork as much as they extinct it, turning ordinary color planes into a sensitive space. Seungtaik Jang’s new series ‘Lines(2012)’is the extension of his Poly-Paintings but it experiments light effects by exploring ‘surface and three dimensions’ in a quite different way. In this series, he presents the work in three dimensions [Untitled-Lines], composed of semi-transparent, glued P.C tubes painted in special acrylic colors and [Untitled- Poly drawing Lines], two dimensional work where polyester films are scratched by knife. The first one creates a structural space composed of multiple layers of scratched polyester films. The other one is a three-dimensional structure created by connecting 5mm thick P.C tubes. The artist attempts three-dimensional works in this [Line] series. But this three dimensional piece is different from a sculpture. It only exists on the surface of walls. You may call it simply by a bas-relief, but it is a three-dimensional piece as a variation of painting in the artistic context of Seungtaik Jang, who has only focused on the matter of ‘painting’ and insisted to remain as a ‘painter’ for more than twenty years. The artist kept the frame and extended it into a real space. The scratches on the surface of the films are temporarily transferred to a bigger screen (the wall). Although thin P.C tubes are connected to each other following certain rules and angles, their structure doesn't draw a specific shape at the end. The Line Series is the work that materializes shadow effect generated by light.

[Untitled-Lines] comes down lengthily along the edge of the wall and also stretches horizontally on the wall. Freely settled down on the large surface of the wall, the assemblage of the lines creates colors of the rainbow while also creating non-reflective plane colors. It goes the same with [Untitled- Poly drawing Lines]. The assemblage of the lines composing the middle part of multiple layers extends into the infinite space. It creates a three-dimensional structure that reminds of an architectural plan. The surface in semi-transparent glass projects various colors each time depending on the natural light. With extremely purified and sophisticated colors, self- reflective shapes and delicate spaces that softly spread out into the infinity, Seungtaik Jang’s works build a mysterious and indescribable space where colors and light encounter accidentally. His work intentionally excludes any forms of expression that could infer preciseness, logics, definition, substantiality or shapes. I couldn't find a word that could suitably describe the colors, the light and the space of his artwork, but I can sense the peculiar energy coming from it. In his artwork, the colors and the light take over every recognizable shape. The vague dots, lines and planes create the abyss of space. The surface is created by the mixture of colors, close to grey and the assemblage of dots and lines. The surface is in the state where a shape is about to be revealed.?The surface makes us wait and see what is going to appear. It is up to the viewers to discover what to see and what to wait for.

Seungtaik Jang’s way of working transforms our habits and attitude of apprehending painting. His painting has to be rather sensed than read or understood. His painting activates as a tool that stimulates our sensitive system of senses by operating the minimum elements that we can sense such as dots, lines, planes, light and colors to the maximum. His painting attempts to bring us up subtle but sensitive emotions offering calm but unforgettable stimulation. It awakens and revitalizes our senses that have been asleep. For more than twenty years, he has been focusing on making paintings with formative elements excluding subjects to represent, themes or issues. His journey is also a process of searching for an answer to the fundamental question about the identity of painting. Today, the act of positioning him/herself as a painter insisting this medium could be defined as a will to build painting’s own unique characteristics different from many other media.

By making endless experiments on painting’s own elements, characteristics and the possibility of extension, Seungtaik Jang raises questions about the relationship between painting and viewers. Seungtaik Jang activates our senses and perception through different questions such as ‘how do colors and light communicate with viewers?’, ‘how do we stay in the empty space built by the connection between dots, lines and planes?’, ‘how does a non-narrative image can tell us a story?’ or ‘ if a sense could replace the concept and the subject of a painting, how do I show it?’…