Swimming in the Inner Sea
You Keun oh (Art Critique)
At first glance, Won Young-soo's painting seems to consist of simple structures. There is apparently a carp
swimming under the surface of blue water. Compared to the delicately drawn carp, the color representation of the water
surface is sometimes active, sometimes gray-toned, sometimes spontaneous, and sometimes expressive. After all, it is sometimes
superficial, sometimes abyssal. Even so, the water surface is more like an abstract rather than a representation. The color
representation of the surface is similar in other types of works, but it is different in that the carnival mask is floating in
the air rejecting gravity. After all, both series appear to be a deliberate, heterogeneous combination of abstract and representation.
It is unavoidable to be considered an experiment in forms. However, the artist's words are quite different. The ambivalence of seeing,
who should we blame that on? Roland Barthes' view is that the gap between the artist's and the viewer's perception is inevitable. It is
the difference between "text written" and "text read." In any case, it is definitely a fascinating scene.
As the viewer approaches the work as the artist intended, we encounter unexpected images. They include the numerous water droplets and
mesh structure that subtly trembles. Water droplets are placed here and there on the canvas that is laid with primary colors and gray.
The mesh is either canvas-wide or a glimmer of presence on the outside, so it's certainly not just a scene, nor a mixture of abstract
and representation. Not all the more so is an experiment in forms. Here, the artist interprets color as his inner side or his alter ego's
various emotions. It seems that the color was applied lightly holding moisture or sprayed with an airbrush, as in the case of color field
painting. Perhaps it is intended to incorporate the artist's emotions into each color. Therefore, they do not specifically dictate or specify
anything. Rather than expressing color attributes or objective qualities, the focus seems to be on free communication. In the same vein, it
states that the masks represent the duplicity of human beings, the mesh represents social organizations, the water droplets represent the
artist's desire, and the carp represents the artist's mental desire to escape from the social organizations. In other words, the artist's
inner self is expressed, compared to the objects. But how can we communicate and commune with metaphors or symbols the artist proposes? It
is worth considering Cezanne's sensual world of "nature and I are one." He said, "the scene thinks about me. Therefore, I am its consciousness
(Le payage se pense en moi, et je suis sa conscience)." The principal agent is not the artist that sees, but the object that is seen. It is a
sensual immersion in which the principal agent and object are inverted. After Cezanne, time and objects became the principal agent in art, no
longer a stranger or a component. For Won, too, objects have become the principal agents of symbols at the moment of his "interpellation."
What the viewer encounters with the scattered water droplets is surely the glass surface that seems to lastly cover the droplets, quietly
hidden on the canvas. Of course, the glass is not clearly drawn, but it can be easily detected because the droplets are images that can form
on the surface of glass. It is both the surface and the denotation of the work. The artist recalls that as a child he felt a "world of fantasy
when he looked into clean and transparent water droplets" formed on the surface of glass from the temperature difference inside and outside a
room. The artist also recalls the subtlety of the water droplets in detail, summoning it from memory to reflect his inner side in the work,
and at the same time embodies the beautiful figure as a symbol of an object that rapidly changes into a clear, visible image of desire. This
surface, of course, makes a translucent window through which the viewer sees the accumulation of water droplets and traces of other objects from
outside the work. In that sense, the watery surface is also a place to display the details of the work and a medium to connect the objects above
and below. The translucent surface obscures the whole, ironically revealing it implicitly by covering it up, vividly displaying it to the viewer.
The viewer encounters his or her own physical and psychological perception as we look into the droplets on the thin, translucent surface with the
blurred, varied expressions with their respective meanings. Won's paintings appear to be divided into a negative space, which is a feast of colors,
and a positive space with carp and masks. So, the viewer would pay attention to the shape of the carp or mask. But let's look into it again carefully.
Though the background functions as a frame of shape throughout his work, at the same time the water droplets comparable to photorealism on the
surface of the impromptu, expressive colors contends with a clear form of carp or mask below where there are faintly but full of the geometric
structure of the mesh. To truly appreciate Won's work, there should be a comma between space and time. It is none other than a "positive negative
The objects that Won brought into his painting are the elements of his acquired senses. To put it in a Maurice Merleau-Ponty way, it is a "bodily
scheme (le schema corporel)" or "an existential painting theory." They are resistant beings who have practiced through the body. Unlike Descartes,
who considered transparency the truth, Merleau-Ponty considered opacity the truth. In other words, it is not the truth that comes to light after all.
An opaque thing permeates the body and contacts our perception. Psychoanalysts describe opacity as a state of trauma or unconsciousness. The phenomenological
explanation of trauma states that a specific, strangely powerful sense from a certain point in life in the past makes a bodily scheme in an instant, and
it manifests immediately when a similar situation occurs while lurking. After all, consciousness comes from the body, not from the mind. The body is
therefore a decentralized being. Merleau-Ponty declared, "Each of 'I' is the intersecting point of all different 'I's.'" The body is formed in relationships
with others and under the combined influence of institutions, society, and history. Won also states that his various images are emotional beings that are
formed from his life in the tightly framed military organization for a long time. These are the equivalents of the way of existence formed in a net of
confinement that cannot and should not be avoided. Thus, Won's consciousness is not created by his mind, but by the influence of the world around him.
He tries to find his existential presence in the image (the object). So, to allude to Merleau-Ponty, his painting depicts the "flesh (la chair)," meeting
and touching it.
Masks are a physical way of freedom in coping with oppression. Some call it a mechanism for representing human duality, but in reality the two are not
different, but in the same extended or circular structure. Therefore, this material object is a phenomenalized medium from oppression to freedom. As
modern philosophy says, the the same le meme is not self-sufficient, but bound to rely on others l’autre. It sounds like a sophistry, but let's ponder
upon it. Resistance to oppression is the just way to be free. Is freedom to imagine freedom at will true freedom? Freedom now allows us to be in Seoul,
New York, or Paris, but this is what is commonly called mental freedom. At this point, let's look at an object, meaning an object that is both passive
and resistant to the principal agent of the mind. An "object" generally means a "thing," but the verb also means "to oppose" or "to raise objections."
It also means implicitly that freedom is earned not by thinking, but by resisting. So, in reality, the principal agent does not decide the object, but
in reverse the object controls the principal agent. To broaden the scope of perception, "confinement" is in fact a term that cannot be interpreted without
the premise of "freedom," and "freedom" is also more valuable in the premise of "confinement" or "constraint." Ironically, however, for Won, "freedom"
and "confinement" may only mean rivalry, not a hardened antagonism. This is the case in that the value of freedom is clearly revealed when one is bound
by old practices of society and institutions. It is all the more so in that it can be nourishment for art. Human beings acquire material for art even in
the tragic circumstances of life. Despite the extreme conditions of war, disease, violence, and oppression, literature and art have produced wonderful
masterpieces. "War and Peace" and "Geurnica" were born that way. We experience greater spiritual healing in "The Burghers of Calais" than in "Venus."
Therefore, it is not necessary to focus on that the dichotomy of the two worlds, namely "confinement" and "freedom," coexisting in Won's work is vividly
shown in the image on the canvas even if it is filled with binomial things, such as the center and surroundings, the lyric and epic, that are not drawn
(mental image) and that are drawn in detail, the unshaped traces of free actions and objects we all know well, the water droplets made with visions as
bait and colorful, chaotic group dances, the reproduction and abstract, the prominent and concealed, and the immovable and dynamic. Through these
helpless metaphors of freedom and oppression that respond to the social environment and conditions, Won exposes the meaning of existence in an uncomfortable
manner and explores human conditions. These elements of the rivalry, pushing and pulling, continue to hold and release our gaze, too. Perhaps because of that,
the artist also speaks of reconciliation and healing.
His recent work series are very interesting and impressive. The canvas is reminiscent of a supernova explosion in space. The explosion causes the canvas
to glow white, yellow, red, and blue, and no more figures to be found. It feels like seeing the creation and extinction of a star. Unlike previous works
that are still, its rough texture is not to mention a physical manifestation of the inner sea, and its physical properties project the artist's own need,
desire, hope, extinction, and traces in the form of abstract expressionism. This is more of an eruption than a symbol of his inner side. That is why the
viewer can feel the artist's body. He brings up this uncomfortable referent as if it were healing, and by vibrating the relation between creation and
extinction, maintains a heightened sense of existence and absence, and balances coexistence between the two senses without discoloring either. In doing
so, the images remain ambivalent, conclusively ambivalent, unfossilized. Excessive introspection and oppressed energy appear in the supernova itself,
exploding with tiny particles of an air brush, spurting enigmatity. It is an expression of the ambivalent way of human beings, in other words an autobiographical
expression. It is beginning to function that the artist is choosing the flow of the work as a way to subdue the mental conflict caused by the friction among
the abyss of life, the existential metaphors of futility, hidden desires in his inner side, and social confinement. The web-like mesh, which is made with
objects that were never seen before, attached to the canvas is not fantasized, but actually protruded. Moreover, the work, which is one made with several
pieces of canvas of the same size connected continuously, has the characteristic that the mesh can self-expand and be extended endlessly if space permits.
The viewer can even sense the nature of the blank or white space that is in full bloom of colors that can embrace any emotion of the artist. A white space
filled with colors? It means that the work is so open. With the exception of the water droplets, the series has no image to be described as an object.
Nevertheless, the artist still refers to his childhood memories, oppression felt in social organizations, or the way out to freedom. It is not clear
whether this oppression, scarcity, or freedom is the influence of Gilles Deleuze, but given that water droplets and masks were important signs for Deleuze,
they might be for some degree analogical metaphors. So, the healing he tries mean may be an act of looking for horizontal "difference." In his recent works,
the reproduction representation that is at the apex of dualism, which was criticized by the philosopher, is gradually disappearing. In this chapter, where
the Platonic system of thinking, which graded the world in a manner of reproductions, is overthrown, no one is guilty of errors of perception, everyone is
free, and no one will suffer from a series of oppression and scarcity that follows desire. It is up to the viewer whether to join. In doing so, the viewer
reaches to reflecting on the relation formed between confinement and the desire to break free from it, which manifests on Won's canvas.