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Critics__________________________

Kim, Sun wuk
Four thousand years of rules and traditions bind the art of oriental calligraphy. In my view, it is unrealistic to expect this ancient form to be understood and appreciated by many people today. Oriental calligraphy, therefore, must develop in new directions. The artist should search for ways to harmonize this art with the life and philosophy of our time.  -- Hanong Sun Wuk Kim

Calligraphy in the Mode of Abstraction

Is East Asian calligraphy primarily an artistic form for conveying literary meaning? Or, does it possess intrinsic aesthetic values which can be developed apart from its traditional functions? Must images composed of Chinese graphs and the Korean alphabet remain inextricably bound to certain conventional kinds of readings? Or, can ink, brush, and paper, like other media, be employed to express the spiritual truths of modern existance? These are but some of the questions which have preoccupied Dr. Sun Wuk Kim (Hanong) for almost a decade. In his evolution from a highly accomplished master of traditional styles to an explorer of new modes of expression, he has been subjecting the formal qualities of calligraphy to a variety of experiments whose success confirms the ability of this ancient art to respond to the complexities of life at the end of the twentieth century. 

Dr. Kim has approached this challenge with life-long devotion, tireless energy, and a firm foundation in the art, philosophy, and poetry of East Asia. More than three decades ago, he studied with the renowned Korean master of calligraphy and seal-carving, Kiwoo Lee (Cholnong), who bestowed upon him his artistic name, "Hanong" or "Cultivator of the Lotus". Among the many classical associations of the lotus are Buddhist enlightenment, Confucian moral purity, and sensual beauty. In the context of Dr. Kim's subsequent artistic pursuits, the blossoming of its many petals may also symbolize the opening up of calligraphy's potential to express the diversity of global life today. Not only as an artist who has held a number of one-man shows in Asia, the united States, and Europe but as the organizer of annual "International Contemporary Calligraphy Exhibitions", Dr. Kim has long been convinced that calligraphy must develop in new directions and that it is capable of reaching an international audience. Recently, he has joined a new, avant-garde group of Korean calligraphers known as "Neo-Wave" or "Moolpha" in Korean. Its goal is to reaffirm the spiritual core of calligraphy as an alternative aesthetic for the coming century in contrast to Western materialism and East Asian religion. Concerning his own work, Dr. Kim has written that

...My object is simply to show beauty through the use of lines, dots, changes in ink-tone, movements of force, rhythms, and the idea of infinite space. It is my personal wish to move away from the confines of traditional oriental calligraphy and create a new form of art that will touch and fire the hearts of people around the modern world. 

--Richard Strassberg , Professor of Chinese, UCLA

Hanong's modern calligraphy is particularly interesting because it adds an intermediate level to the twentieth-century debate between abstraction and realism. On the one hand are the realists, whose works are grounded in representation. On the other hand are the abstract artists, whose non-objective works seek to convey meaning solely by formal means. Calligraphy occupies a point between representation and pure form, one that is illuminated by Hanong's free-form style. The Abstract Expressionistss emulated calligraphers, and often worked in monochrome, accentuating line and gesture as a means of conveying emotion. But Hanong and the Abstract Expressionists walk fundamentally different paths. One cannot communicate efficiently without a set group of significant forms, and the Abstract Expressionists lacked an alphabet. The Oriental calligrapher does not. American artists' appropriation of calligraphic gesture was like pirates stealing a treasure map that has no coordinates. For the Western artist to engage in pure formal invention is a rather solipcistic act relies on the reflective powers of the audience for its impact. it makes greater sense for the Oriental calligrapher to experiment formally, seeking to enhance and augment the meaning of intelligible texts. 

This leads directly to the question of how non-Orientals can appreciate Oriental calligraphy. For the reader of Oriental languages, a fine sheet can offer Beauty, as well as Intellectual and Spiritual enrichment; the same work set before a Westerner proffers an intellectual content that is unknownalbe. Its beauty may still be enjoyed, and spiritual values may aries through reflection, but the intended content does not come into play. However, Westerners are trained to find significance in the undefined. The tradition of non-objective abstraction, from Kandinsky and Mondrian, to Pollock and Twombly, has allowed Westerners to perceive abstract notations as objects of meditation. The same qualities one admires in pure abstraction can be found in calligraphy, and particularly in Hanong's modern variety. Both are records of performances that seek to register their makers' emotional states through gestures and colors. Indeed, Hanong's recent works bring even readers of calligraphy into the realm of abstraction. 

--Jason Edward Kaufman, Art Historian. 

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