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History & Theory
   Issue & Features on Contemporary Art in Korea / Art Theory   
The Artist on the Road: Byung Jong KIM’s Travel Painting

Research Fellow   /   Gallery Hyundai   /   2008. 3. 19.

The Artist on the Road

Byung Jong KIM’s Travel Painting

Lee, Joo Hun, Art critic

When asking directions on the road, that is not to know only the simple geographical route from A to B. We are also asking about the view, the people and their hospitality. The simple routes are nothing close to the roads. Life is often compared to a simple map of routes pointing toward the final destinations of success and happiness. If life is a map, just follow the map but then you are not a real wayfarer.

Diary on Cuba, 2006, Acrylic & Mixed Media, 33.4x53

Wayfarers meet a road after hitting the road but they should take another road. Although they take the same road as yesterday, it is a new road as the expression on the sky is different, the wind whistles differently and the faces of people met on the road are not the same. When we leave we always face a fork of a road and should take a new road. However, while on the road, if you are not thrilled and don’t smile or cry at the newness you are still at the same road. You have not started your road just yet.

The reason we enjoy traveling is it awakens us that the road is not about simple paths we take. we recognize clearly that a road is a blessed space opening a new day and new pleasure. Travels enhance our sensitivity toward the road. Therefore a very sensible and sensitive company doubles the value of the journey. We can truly enjoy the road. Artist Byung Jong KIM makes one of those great companies for pilgrimage.

Byung Jong KIM’s “Picture Book Journey” where he traverses every corner of the country following the footsteps of several artists shows that he is a master guide of this time. However even stronger and vivid evidences showing how great guide he is are the pieces of his artwork over the past two decades:  Jesus the Fool series; the Song of Life series.

He draws the truth seeker or a monk in his Jesus the Fool series. The “Gudoja (truth seeker)” in Korean literally means a person seeking after a road, therefore a person asking directions on the road. KIM showed in his series that everyone is destined to become the truth seeker and leads us to realize that we would have to ask directions and find the roads throughout the courses of our lives.

          Travel Sketches on Mexico, 2007
          acrylic & mixed media on canvas, 97x162

On the other hand in the series of the Song of Life, the subjects are fish, birds, horses and people. They are the companions during our journey. They make great companies when we walk along the road relying on each other. Life is in itself symbiosis and it cannot stand alone. Why should all the travelers in a countless fairytales, fables and myth meet a company on the road without fail? That is because life is symbiosis. KIM’s companies led us to understand that by asking directions we are basically asking to live together.

Now after meeting many companies and asking directions for such a long time he starts a new series On the Road, a theme that he can draw for over a decade. He once said he plans to start traveling for this series of works. As a highly acclaimed and once awarded novelist he also plans to write along the way. A phrase of Kwang Gyun KIM’s “A Lyrical Fall Day” came to my mind upon hearing his plan: “The road unwound like a crumbled necktie.” At the expectation that this strong image of paintings and that much impressive novel would soon be created, I was thrilled.

At the juncture of On the Road series, the road shown on his canvas has more distinct images of travel. While the road he had been focused on was more of prototype and principle, the road he is showing from now on was the one from reality and first hand experience. However, the road painted based on his experience and the reality would not be limited to simple surface expressions or an array of images. As every road leads to Rome his road finally shows the way to principle. The fact is every detail of his colorful and vivid journey to the principle would be expressed on the canvas as the joy of real road.

Column Falls(1), 2007, chinese ink & acrylic, 162.2x97

His recent works consist of the pieces and the record of what he had felt and seen during his pilgrimage to Latin America. A part of his works was published in a daily newspaper with his writings titled “KIM Byung Jong’s Journey of Latin America Picture Book.” In anyway the starting point of On the Road series was the Latin America but please don’t ask me why it should be the Latin America. It is more like the question asking why the blood starts circulating from the heart. Latin America is the heart of the earth. Could any other land pulsate quicker than Latin America? As the hot blood races from the ventricles of the heart to start its journey, Byung Jong KIM’s On the Road series has to start from the hot blood of Latin America.

After his trip to Latin America, his stroke of brush touched the countries like Cuba, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Peru. There he met the strong colors. Those colors were not used in very sophisticated artifacts by highly artists but the ones favored by the average people to decorate houses and cheap accessories. Although it might be a far cry from a cultivated art, the essence of colors is distilled from the lives of people. Every society and people has their own color but no color is like the Latin America’s in its intensity and explosiveness. That was how KIM had felt.

Facing the colors circulating like the red blood as in its basic instinct piercing not only the eyes but also the hearts of the observers, the artist was in a way provoked and encouraged. His “bloodshot” canvas has more red colors than any of his previous works. The color KIM had met in Latin America was the blood red.

Hotel Princess, 2006, Acrylic & mixed media on canvas, 50x72.7

It is not that the canvas was painted red all over the places but the color, like blood, has dynamically approached us. There are several words meaning both the color and the color red. The Spanish Colorado is the case in point. Therefore it is safe to say all the colors in Latin America are rooted in the color red. So when asked why they are so much activated, why their hearts beat so strongly, why they dance so passionately, the swirling colors would answer in one voice: “We have the color red in us. It is in our blood.”

The intensity of colors that KIM had seen in Latin America was vividly expressed in paintings such as “The Shades of Caribbean Sea and Kids That Changes Twelve Times a Day,” “Cuban Girls with Cigar Dressed in Primary Colors,” “Street Peddlers,” “The Blue House in Coyoacan,” “Tango,” and “La boca, the Birthplace of Tango.” When the strong color is infused into the bloodstream it comes as natural exultation that the characters in the painting should dance out of the passion toward their lives.

As it is not the writing, every details and anecdotes on “the KIM Byung Jong’s Journey of Latin America Picture Book” cannot be vindicated. However, the impact that had struck his heart can be directly and more clearly felt than in any other means or media.

La Vie En Rose, 2007, Acrylic & mixed media, 45.5x65.1

Now several major pilgrimage places come to my mind: Club Nacional and Buena Vista Social Club proclaiming “Music is My Life,” The blue house of “High Priestess of Pain” Frida Kahlo, Hemingway’s La Theresa where sea water tickles the terrace, the birth house of Jorge Luis Borges who positively accepted his life’s irony as universe, and Evita’s tomb who was praised as saint and finger pointed as sinner at the same time.

Those places have the remains of fierce struggles and passions or they still have the echoing sound of its amplified energy whirling around. It is as if the concentrated energy was gushed out as this strong color of red. The red colored paintings by KIM come across in our minds as the sweet bread and strong coffee he had once craved for in Buenos Aires. I wonder how his future odyssey would unfold from the throbbing heart of the earth. KIM’s pilgrimage, overlapping with Odysseus’ decade long journey, raises the expectations about his upcoming epic series.

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