Clothing, Faith and Hidden Passages
The Korean people are so inextricably bound up with their "Koreaness" from an "homogenous social perspective" that apprehending this sensibility is extremely difficult for outsiders. This inherent sense of "being" or "mind" determines how Koreans organise social, political and cultural constructs. The attitude to "artists" in contemporary Korea is aggregate and embodies a dualistic view of "respectful nobility" but also "utilitarian ambivalence." The reason for this complexity is intrinsically tied to a deep collective yearning for "success" and "status" fuelled by envy. Once driven traditionally by an elite, hierarchical feudal system this is now charged by its transmuted remnants compiled together with a mishmash of various foreign systems and increasingly exacerbated by "commerce" and "extreme" wealth. Koreans have totally embraced artistic production in any milieu as "product" and "vehicle" for personal success. This is nowhere demonstrated more clearly than in the "Hallyu" (wave) pop phenomenon that has swept Asia for the last 15 years launching many a singer or actor into stardom and spawning a burgeoning entertainment products sector. Korean identity is deeply bound up with this "success" producing "pride" for a nation and "affluence" for the "individual." Capitalism and the global market economy then, have opened up increased opportunities for the Korean arts sector and this is shaping the current collective outlook towards art and its purpose in this complex modern society.
There are other artists like Christian Boltanski, Kaarina Kaikkonen and Jarod Charszewski who use clothes in large site specific installations to make commentary on human society and relationships. Rather than developing installation strategies of hanging, piling, sculpting and dissembling clothes in a space, Seong Kyoo reworks them and paints on them, investing them with new cultural significance. Clothes are viewed by him as a kind of device linking human culture and spiritual life, a palimpsest of experience and event. The effect is the transformation of everyday garments into objects of mediation, cultural objects, the utilitarian invested with transcendent new life. These objects haven't multiplied themselves into monumental configurations of garments piled or hung out in public spaces. On the contrary, Seong Kyoo's paintings retain their status as "image" destined to inhabit only "wall" space, differentiating themselves from artworks that accrete to ceilings and floors and parade through outdoor spaces. Seong Kyoo's paintings start off as cast-off garments that are moulded into shapes, flattened and then painted with clothing and body motifs. The commonplace then is elevated to art status with serious cultural intent destined for gallery walls. The artist is focused on the integrity of the painting project and pushing the boundaries of what is possible with pictorial conventions governing plane and scale.
Jeon Seong Kyoo is continually looking for his "hidden passage" somewhere near the intersection of clothing, paint, artistic ingenuity and faith and though he knows he may never find it, he also knows that it's out there waiting and that's the best reason for painting, so he continues on!
I'm inspired by Jeon Seong Kyoo because he continues to believe in painting and all its inexhaustible possibilities. In a time of cultural cynicism and political correctness it takes backbone to stay the course and complete in good faith. There is integrity in pursuing what you believe in even if no-one else does.
To view a recent catalog of Jeon Seong Kyoo's work click below.