Gallery d'Arte presents "Grafting To: Joohyun Kang," an exhibition of wall works, paintings and ink drawings that display natural imagery imbued with mythological motifs, narrating tales which source the genesis of humanity, and our struggle to forge beauty and meaning in life despite inexorable odds. Paradoxically, the works sparkle with sequins and beads, materials that suggest inspiration from the fashion industry. It is as if the insights of fashion and art fuse to express an expanded statement. Although the artist has lived in the US for twenty years and received an MFA from a Korean University as well as from Pratt Institute, the forms in this body of work clearly originate in Korean culture. Kang taps various references including beautifully articulated knobby tree trunks and roots that comingle with domestic pagodas. Dragons, which are a Korean power symbol, chase each other in circular movements in an endless feud to establish dominance. These forms symbolize her experience of establishing herself in a demanding life in a new country.
These works stir the id with sensuous plant forms that tweak our deepest wellsprings of desire and engagement, bringing a new vision with a fresh outlook to the NY art scene. It takes courage to reveal one's deepest inner thoughts and emotions, to express one's authentic needs and desires, even via symbols and mythology. Kang subtly explores the personal challenges that face her in her life in America, illustrating that globalization involves much more than the typical display of stereotyped pictures that recapture generic images.
In "Birth of a Culture" (2014), Kang bisects a pagoda, creating in its center a form that resembles a fountain filled with white water that signifies renewal and the willingness to encounter a young diverse culture. "Dragons - Power Games II" (2013), with its circular structure composed of dragons’ bones, suggests that conflicts can endure beyond death itself, repeating the cycle of domination and repression that is so seductive to the human race. Kang carefully renders the refined bone forms to achieve precision unusual in the medium of watercolor.
In "Dragons Power Game I" (2010), (image, top of page) beads and sequins shine and sparkle to accentuate a format where dragons perform a dance of hostility whose movements create an inner ring enclosing mountains, wafting clouds and pagodas. Visually, the black "ribbons" act as foils for the softer colors. Although it is grueling, conflict in personal relationships can be life’s way of stretching and strengthening one as a human being. The wall piece "Stream and Scales" (beads, sequins with mixed media on canvas, 2010) (image above) narrates a time in the genesis of the human race, when it originally emerged from the ocean to forge a new existence on land. "Growth I" (2015) displays tiny pagodas sheltered around the roots of a massive tree trunk that disappears as if continuing to expand past the top limits of the picture plane format. The piece suggests that solid growth depends on firmly established roots that have formed in our early life and habitat. Without roots, we might spring without moorings, in a confused state of insecure identity. In her exquisitely rendered ink drawings on paper, Kang uses partially articulated vegetable and flower forms to signify the presence of forests and flowers growing freely in a nature of the mind's eye. In winter when Thomas Gainsborough couldn't paint outdoors, he also employed broccoli stalks as model motifs of woods in his studio.
In hybrid wall works and paintings laden with untraditional art materials, Joonhyan Kang narrates her life's challenges in formats that are evocative of fashion statements that express mythological motifs embedded in natural forms. One often reads of innovative works that "break boundaries and defy expectations." If one truly wants to break boundaries, to achieve not just a global but also a multi-cultural perspective in visual art, one must accept new voices that take us by surprise and delight us with their genuine diversity. With so much territory already explored, there is space in a fresh millennium to investigate imaginative topics in visual art that span personal issues, the current complexities from terrorism to imminent ecological meltdown, and much more. - Mary Hrbacek
Ms. Hrbacek is an artist who has been writing reviews of NY art exhibitions since 1999; she has covered shows in almost every museum in town.