Ginkgo is the series of impressions made by wood engraving. Created by Korean printmaker and ceramist Hyun Jeung, the works are now displayed at the City Hall of the 8th arrondissement of Paris, under the exhibition “Figurations Coréennes”.
The display consists of three impressions of different colors. One print is colored in grayish silver while another with yellowish bronze added in. In the background, there is a hint of calligraphy that one may usually find in a traditional ink painting. The way the ink sits on the page is very fine and delicate, yielding an effect as if the design has been printed on a transparent piece of silk, a similar touch of some delicate interweaving patterns.
Wood engraving is a printmaking and letterpress printing technique, in which the artist makes the image or matrix of images into a block of wood. The artist applies ink to the face of the block and prints using relatively low pressure. Since the printing plates or blocks are inked and the recessed areas are ink-free, printing the image is therefore a relatively simple matter of inking the face of the matrix and bringing it in firm contact with the paper. By contrast, ordinary engraving, like etching, uses a metal plate for the matrix, where the ink fills the valleys – the recessed areas. As a result, wood engravings deteriorate less quickly than copper-plate engravings, and have a distinctive white-on-black character.
For the works of Hyun Jeung, despite a series of prints is made from the same woodblock and born from the same matrix, lines, and gestures, it is far from being a simple image transfer. Each individual print is subtly different, as the artist varies the inks used each time. For Hyun Jeung, printmaking is an art of process rather than a reproduction technique. Paradoxically, it can reveal the changing nature of things through repetition. Each time when the matrix meets the paper, the time and space are opened for a range of possibilities for the layers of ink to mix and dried, for the image to interact and play with the veins of the wood. It is because of this astonishing profusion of space-time that the unknown is allowed to join with the known. This is what the artist named the void – having herself stepped back to give way to a force that can express itself.
In the same exhibition, another work of the artist Kaki is also displayed. She captures the atmosphere in her own words: “Like many Koreans, we used to have a large Gam tree – or Kaki tree – in our backyard. In the summer, its generous leafage would bring freshness to the house, playing with the wind to paint symphonies of shade and light on the grass. And in the winter, the plump Gam fruits would scatter orange dots against the snowy sky.” Each of the artist’s prints differs with a field of fluctuations when each of them takes on the undulating colors, textures and moods. Just like the quiet mingling of shade and light underneath the Gam tree.
Grew up in Korea before coming to France, the young artist has relocated to Tunisia to live and works after having got a PhD in Fine Arts at the Université Panthéon-Sorbonne in Paris. She also studied printmaking at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris for one year under the guidance of printmaker and painter Jean-Pierre Pincemin, and has undertaken training in Chinese woodblock printing in Beijing. Hyun Jeung has been shortlisted twice for the GRAV’X Prize (1995 & 2007) – a printing prize awarded every two years by the Gravix Foundation – and she won first prize for printmaking in 2002 at the Salon des artistes de la Ville de Paris. Several of her prints have also been acquired by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and the Tunisian Ministry of Culture.
Korean contemporary art
From the 17th century, the Western art models have started to exert their influences on the productions of the Far Eastern paintings. It was Japan, who at the Meiji era (1868-1912), first made a major move in the Asian art scene by taking on board these influences from the schools of Europe. Then China quickly followed suit. Not until 1950s that Korea has completely caught up on his neighbors in terms of this international art vision.
Despite its inventiveness, Korea remained a country insisting on the preservation of the conservative principles of Chinese origin at the end of the Joseon era (1392-1910). Under the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1876, the Meiji government sought to integrate Korea both politically and economically into the Empire of Japan. Then annexed in the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1910, Japan brought to a close the Joseon period and Korea officially became an integral part of Japan. The establishment of political structures and institutions of Japan has deeply influenced the traditional Korean culture.
The Korean art demonstrated a lot of similarity to that of Japan. Not until the end of the Second World War that the art scene in Korea regained its independence, marked by a rapid process of international artistic assimilation and adaptation. The second half of 1950 saw a growing of groups and movements opposed to the conservative circles and this helped to definitively establish a new contemporary art scene in Seoul. The dominating taste of figuration in the late 1940s and early 1950s gave way partially to the abstract expressionism under the influence of America, as well as that of the School of Paris, as a consequence of the need for individual expression after the colonization and the war. This trend has led many top artists to move to abstraction by the end of the decade. After the end of colonization by Japan and the relative stabilization of the political situation, many Koreans went abroad. Paris becomes a destination for some of the major contemporary Korean artists. With the evolution of time, the art scene of Korea undergoes a variety of movement and a diversity of models, styles and techniques are seen in nowadays’ Korean contemporary art.
The exhibition of Séoul-Paris-Séoul at the Cernuschi Museum, together with its annexed exhibition “Figurations Coréennes” held at the City Hall of the 8th arrondissement of Paris, together provide a complete journey for the visitors to explore this difference of styles in contemporary Korean art.
Mairie du 8ème arrondissement (3, rue de Lisbonne 75008)
15th October to 6th November 2015