The thinking behind this body of work originates in my attempt to reconnect with the painting traditions of my heritage. Having been taught the western tradition in my art school years, I found myself searching for meaning in a painting tradition that I felt neither spiritual, intellectual nor philosophical connection with. I used oils on canvas as did my fellow classmates. No one questioned the material or medium used and how they coincided with the purpose of the painting itself.
Recollections of my first painting instructions when I was 16, studying in Normandy, France with Korean exiled painter, Ung No Lee taught me to understand the connection between art and nature. Traditional Asian art has always been foremost about nature. Painting in eastern art is the translation of an artist’s physical and sensory experience of being in the moment. Much of western thought is about deconstructing the past and re-constructing the future.
Although I substitute acrylic on paper for ground ink on rice paper, the philosophy behind the choice of material and medium has significance for me. Painting on paper is direct. Unlike painting with oils on canvas, sumie brush painting and acrylic on paper painting involves an immediate bonding of medium onto paper. Oils on canvas reveal the nature of superficial facades and illusions. There can be layer and layer of paint to camouflage, to mask, to distort, to disorient, to confuse. Though sumie painting uses organic materials and medium, I have chosen to paint with acrylic paint which is artificial and man-made.
As with traditional sumi-e painting, I am interested foremost in nature, but in a contemporary setting where cars and houses populate a natural landscape. Although traditional sumi-e paintings are devoid of imagery of cars and houses that are architecturally western, the intent of painting has similarity. I am particularly interested in zen philosophy where the act of painting is primarily used as a way of disciplining one’s desires in the greater search for an understanding of truth. The cars and houses in my paintings are but a veil to communicating a different kind of nature, human nature in an existential sense.
I have thought much about enlightenment in my life. I have sought for direction in my personal life. In a singular image, how does one convey the sense of existential malaise to be adrift in suburbia but through the loneliness of a car driving down an anonymous road. And how does one communicate the artifice of constructed dreams but through the shell of a house where families congregate and hide. To witness the contrast of nature and the artifice of suburban existence is to penetrate the solitude and the loneliness of hidden lives and the myths perpetuated in suburbia.
The persistence to identify feelings and to find meaning in life surfaced and took shape in the act of painting for me. The act of re-creating impressions through a visual medium was a way for me to calm my anxiety, my desires, my compulsions, my mind. Painting had become a way for me to discipline my path. I have worked on this body of paintings since my last year at graduate school. Throughout these 15 years, I had experienced much conflict with the artificial dreams I believed in. I have sought focus and concentration in my life through my road related imagery. Painting for me is really a representation of the discipline I have wanted in my life. And so, my works are a record of my focus and discipline. Painting has never been a pleasurable experience for me. The act of painting has always involved intense mental and physical preparation. As in sumi-e brush painting where the act of grinding ink is a means to meditation, the act of painting for me always involves specific rituals of eating, organizing and focusing both mentally and physically.
The impressions behind a singular visual image are at once comprehended and experienced yet unidentified by the specifics of language. The endless question arises. What does this all mean? To come full circle only to realize more emptiness. This zen principle in the duality of language and in the search for meaning embodies my endless journey in the visual medium.