Friday, May 14, 2010

My Favorites - Art (darn long post)

I tried to design a mug this afternoon. My brain was on overload with editing and writing so I decided to take a break and take advantage of an online event offering a personally designed mug. 'Ooooh, a mug. Simple! It'll be a good diversion and then I'll get back to work', I thought.

I'm an idiot. You should never assume anything is easy until you've actually done it yourself. After getting a reality check I looked at the sample mugs with a different eye. R-e-s-p-e-c-t to the designers, I tell ya. Major respect, in fact.

That was a mug. (I gave up, by the way.) Painting is yet another thing. I'm struggling to complete the painting I started two months ago. Although I've come to the conclusion that I'll never be satisfied with it and should start doing preliminary sketches to do another, I just can't seem to let go. And it's not as if I'm painting a masterpiece either.

Art is what I wanted to do as a kid, what I wanted to do as a teen, what I want to do as an adult. It's a constant in my life. Art museums and galleries are my sanctuaries, my refuge. There are artists who speak to me, there are paintings with which I hold conversations. There is art to touch, to hear, to feel, to taste. I greatly enjoy how all the senses come together; art is not just visual.

That overly pious reverie being done, here are some of my favorite artists and paintings, with complete disregard to chronological order :

Le Ballon by Félix Vallotton

Come spring with hints of summer, this is the painting I think of. I absolutely adore the color tones, the play of the shadows, the movement of the little girl and her ball in contrast to the still adults in the background.

This painting reminds me of warm days in Paris when I would carry a sketchbook to the Tuileries or Luxembourg gardens and surreptitiously draw other people enjoying the same beautiful day.



As with designing mugs, painting flowers have got to be the most difficult thing ever. The simpler, the more difficult.

So how can paintings of flowers be this exciting? Symbolism aside, that O' Keefe's flowers are so vibrant and full of life gets me. Red is my favorite color, as is the poppy painting my favorite O' Keefe.

Karma by Suh Do Ho

Installation art intrigues me. In a good way. There's something very attractive of the "wholeness" of the work itself and then the thought process behind it. (Which, to be quite honest, can be said about any other form of art but somehow installation art makes me think more than any other. I think I drink paintings, whereas with installation art I chew.)

Suh Do Ho's work is always bold yet so very meticulous you wonder about his actual personality; is he a control freak who likes things on a big scale? (I bet yes. Friends and acquaintances of Suh, spill!)

Karma is one of my favorite work of his. Is this an allegory? Are the little people providing stepping stones for the bigger cause? Is the big person stepping on others in order to advance for personal gain? Is this a symbiotic relationship or not? And where does the middle sized viewer fit in, as they contemplate? All delicious points to ponder.

Le Baiser by Gustave Klimt

Oh, dear. What do you do when one of your favorite artists suddenly becomes extremely popular and more mainstream than coca-cola? Throw a hissy fit worthy of an emo kid whose favorite indie band gets discovered? Go around telling everyone (who don't give a darn) that you "liked him first"?

I have an unframed print of this painting that I got while backpacking in Europe during my uni years. People weren't that interested in Klimt back then. I remember my friends not knowing who he was. But contrary to what I've written above, I'm quite glad that people are more familiar with him now. Conversations about his work is possible! Although I do have to admit seeing his work on everything from coasters to tea pots make me cringe a bit.
Les hasards heureux de l'escarpolette (The Swing) by Jean-Honoré Fragonard

I can feel the silk swish, the light breeze, the warmth of light that peeks into the trees. Opulence and alluring insouciance are what I think of when looking at Fragonard's work. So coquettishly pretty. I want to recreate that dress for my dolls. (Hadda throw a dolly geek comment somewhere.)

The Music Lesson by Johannes Vermeer

Thanks to the book and movie, the Girl with a Pearl Earring is probably Vermeer's most famous painting, but I particularly like this one. The strict dividing lines of the two toned tile floor contrasting with the richness of the table tapestry, the stark white water jug drawing the eye to the main characters whose poses portray the scene, the reflection of the diligent student in the mirror - there's so much to enjoy.

Wounded Angel by Hugo Simberg

Simberg is not a painter with whom I was familiar. However, when I was going through difficult times several years ago I found this painting on someone's blog and was immediately mesmerized. Why is the angel blindfolded? Why is s/he holding flowers? How did s/he get hurt? Why are the boys' expressions so grave and somber?

There is a theory that the angel was blindfolded to protect its dignity on having to be rescued by mere mortals but apparently the artist never provided answers.
I'm thankful for that. Sometimes there just aren't any answers. Once you stop expecting to get answers for everything, life becomes a lot easier to deal with.

This painting is a almost like therapy. It gives me far more perspective than a bestselling self-help book.

From the Water Drops series by Kim Tschang Yeul

Rain, rain go away, don't come again another day... Rain isn't my friend. My blood pressure drops like mad on murky days, consequently I get depressed; rainy days are meant to be spent at home with good music, a good book and a cup of hot coffee.

There are things I like about rain, though. (I'm not a onesided grumpy-pants.) I like the sound of the breaking rainwaves the cars ride on. I like how it cleanses away the dirt and grime of the city and creates a clear clear sky. I like how the radio stations get into a sentimental mood and play 'rain appropriate' songs all day. I particularly like watching rain drops as they slowly trickle down the window panes, trying to guess their paths, how they retain their shape for a moment before suddenly setting on a journey.

I believe that Kim is fascinated by rain as well and that's why he chooses to paint waterdrops. His work is so lifelike I always expect to see the waterdrops to move. And when I stare long and hard, I always feel like they actually do.

Nymphéas (Water Lilies) by Claude Monet

If there was a place in France that I would like to visit over and over, it would be Giverny. The first time setting foot in the gardens, I immediately understood how and why Monet's water lilies looked as they did. The subdued hush of the water, the low hum of the foliage, reflections playing on every surface the light shone, the flowers sitting quietly in that peaceful calm; all that emotion is naturally captured in Monet's touch and colors.
The scene would serve as an antidote for any sort of artist's block. I wished to stay in that garden forever and daydream.

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper

I'm beginning to notice how I'm fascinated by light. The contrasts in light. Somehow the bright interior wall counterbalancing the light shining on the sidewalk makes this scene poignant for me. Even without knowing the title of the painting, it's quite evident that it's late late night and that the diner is the only source of light in the vicinity. That the "nighthawks" have seeked out the light. Or so would my friend Lawrence say.

Lawrence always said that Paris being the city of lights attracted those with dark hearts, i.e. artists. Our circle of friends, all being either art or design students in Paris at the time, wound up having a heated debate over the dark heart part. I can't remember what everyone said, but I do remember groaning and accusing Lawrence of acting pretentious. (Art people can overlook pretentiousness quite well but the delivery has to be good.)

The above painting is my favorite Hopper, even moreso because it looks like you can draw in Batman in the left storefront and not ruin the painting at all. A very Gotham Cityesque ambiance.

Summer by Alphonse Mucha

Art nouveau. If I had to choose a favorite art movement, it would have to be art nouveau. I like the fact that art was applied for a decorative purpose on useful things. I like the illustrative quality of the paintings, the defining outlines that emphasize the main theme and characters, so much so that I like to incorporate that technique when I do fashion illustrations.

I like every single one of Mucha's work. The only reason why I chose the above painting is because I want summer to be here. It's the only season when I'm not cold, and I'm quite fed up with being cold.

Folk painting from the Joseon Dynasty

I love Korean traditional paintings. Not particularly the portraits of sovereigns and aristrocrats nor the somber black ink paintings, but the more whimsical and colorful works done by common folk. Like art nouveau, the delineated characteristic appears here as well although the use of empty space as a main element is true to the classic Korean painting approach.

Lotus blossoms, water lilies, is there a pattern here? (Weird. My favorite flower are daisies.)


Speaking of flowers, this installation piece by Steiner & Lenzlinger is one of the artworks that I truly truly want to see and experience in real life. (Check out the rest of the series on their site.) I'm hoping that they participate in the Gwangju Biennale one of these days or at have a massive show in Tokyo - I'm so there.

Balloon Dog by Jeff Koons

Interestingly, the first time I ever heard of Jeff Koons was from a photo spread he did with his then wife Cicciolina in American Vogue. (This was before the interwebs was invented and back when magazines were a great source for overseas information.) The image of a large silver balloon bunny, which in fact was aluminum, totally blew me away. Wow, I thought. Wow!

Art is what art is. Even if it's just balloon or balloon-like animals.

The More, the Better by Nam June Paik

I am quite sure that the generation born after the birth of MTV won't be as impressed with Paik's work as the generations before, but the sheer fact that this pioneer of video art was already expressing his visions by electronic means in the '60s? Amazing, in my opinion.

My most favorite work of his happens to 'The Moon is the Oldest Television', a series of TV screens showing glimpses of the moon in various phases, but I couldn't find a decent picture of it. The hilarious truth of the title slayed me.

'The More, the Better' is the main installation piece in the spiral entry of the National Museum of Modern Art. I can literally spend hours looking at it.

I also mentioned Paik's 'Fractal Turtleship' a couple of posts back. The video clip is here.

"Man in Wall" by Mark Jenkins

I find street artist Jenkins' plastic tape people series highly amusing, but it's the above installation that cracks me up every single time. Who hasn't wanted to bash their head in a wall sometime in their life?

Sculpture by Osang Gwon

Most artists are just brilliant. I think it's not a matter of talent only but also demeanor that differentiates them from us ordinary people. Like the way Gwon approaches his art. His life-size three dimensional sculptures are made from two dimensional photographs; studious, deliberate and thoughtful, yet not losing any of the fun nor charm. I'm always delighted by his work and I'm always thinking, 'Now why didn't I think of that?'

A young monk by Won Sung

Won Sung is a Buddhist monk of the Jogye Order. He's also an artist and writer. He paints mostly young monks with cheerful expressions, serene Buddhist scenes that bubble with happiness; all in clear vibrant colored inks. He himself radiates childlike joy, just like the monks in his paintings.

I own a painting by Won Sung, a 9 piece painting composed of a boy monk interacting with various animals. (I should take a photo.) I got it in the '90s during the yuppie phase of my life. It is the most costly 'non-essential-for-living' purchase I have made and one of my most prized possessions. And I happen to be Christian. Religion shouldn't matter in art.

The Creatrix by Mark Ryden

I'm a dolly geek, mostly infatuated by Blythe, whose main feature is abnormally huge eyes in an abnormally huge face. Christina Ricci is always mentioned as the most Blythelike celebrity and for some odd reason most of the girls in Ryden's paintings have an uncanny resemblance to the actress.

But that's not the only reason why I like Ryden. The harmony of colors, fantastical and whimsical nature of his themes, the meticulous details and the slight twisted humor all greatly appeal to me. Looking at his paintings is like trying to solve a captivating puzzle.
A tiny portion from one of Kang Ik Joong's works

Every time I find myself in front of Kang's work, I always find myself mumbling, "There's no way in hell would I be able to do this." Kang likes to work on tiny tiny canvases and then assemble them together to create a bigger picture, sometimes massive murals. You can spend hours looking at each individual painting, step back to understand the whole and repeat the process over and over.

Scene from video installations by Pippilotti Rist

I like saying 'Pippilotti Rist'. The name has such a jaunty cadence to it. As her nickname comes from Pippi Longstocking I tend to think of Rist as a happy artist, even if her art isn't necessarily all sunshine and rainbows. She is an explosive energy of whimsy, however.

Wish there was a way to view her feature film Pepperminta here in Seoul. Looks incredibly charming!

Dowon Family by Lee Manik

Lee Manik finds his themes in the yesteryears of Korea with a nostalgic sensibility, a yearning for the age of innocence. It was his art that graced the poster for the musical The Last Empress, but I find his family series the most endearing. The faces of the people in Lee's paintings are always so simple yet so expressive at the same time. His painting style is reminiscent of the decorative and colorful roof eaves of traditional Korean buildings, which I happen to like immensely.

Lithograph by Andy Warhol


Love the banana. Love the soup cans. Love all the portraits that Warhol has done. But if you ask me to choose my favorite? His capricious angels. Such a light touch. Such naughtiness. Love love love love love.

Happy flowers by Murakami Takashi

The only time I was ever tempted to buy a Louis Vuitton bag - for an ex-fashionista I uncharacteristically don't spend money on luxury brands - was when they colloborated with Murakami and Superflatted the speedy.

But then a tidal wave of fake bags spilled onto the streets and I was okay. Murakami stickers and postcards are enough to keep me happy.

On the way home by Park Soo Keun

Park Soo Keun paints ordinary people in everyday life. Scenes of the 50s and 60s, where people mingle with the each other and the environment with heart and melancholy. Not only are the images extremely touching, especially if you think of post-war Korea, but the textures that Park applies to his paintings add layers of emotions as well. You want to actually touch the paintings at times, feel the rough ridges and the soft valleys as if reaching out to the people within.

Speaking of Park, it's the 45th year anniversary since his death this year and there is an exhibition of his work at Gallery Hyundai which runs till the end of May. Unlike most gallery exhibitions in Seoul, there is an admission fee of 5,000 won (adult) but as you are introduced to his major works, along with a video presentation (no subtitles, unfortunately) I found the price quite reasonable.

The gallery is situated between Insadong and Samcheongdong, on the eastside street of Gyeongbok Palace.


So. That's a handful of my favorites. There's tons more, but I didn't want to go overboard. I plan to make a separate post for favorite illustrators although I find the demarcation of artist and illustrator quite ambiguous, because the latter is just another type of the former.

Curious to know the favorites of others. Who and what are yours?

2 comments:

V said...

hey there~!
sorry for my comment, but i felt like correcting that Alfons Mucha's works are not Art Deco but Art Nouveau. I think you meant that too.
Art Deco is basically the 1920-30's, and was more prominent in the USA.

seoulsuzy said...

Aaaaaah! Thanks so much for pointing that out, I should proofread my posts more!
Fixed the post. And comments like yours are always more than welcome. Cheers. ^_^