12 Mar 2020 — 11 Apr 2020

 Donghyun Son's page
Donghyun Son
Ink on Paper II

First, definitions. Ink on Paper is an English translation of jibonsumuk(紙本水墨), the method and medium by which Donghyun Son's paintings are created. Son's 2015 solo exhibition Ink on Paper presented works created exclusively from paper and traditional East Asian ink(墨-muk), essentially ink wash paintings(水墨?-ink wash paintings). Titled Ink on Paper II, this solo exhibition experiments with the medium of painting over its subjects. Ink, as used in the exhibition title denotes both the traditional East Asian and Western inks. In the East Asia, ink(muk) is for writing and painting. In the West, writing and painting generally use different types of inks. Despite those differences by civilization, the concept of ink and its accepted usages have contributed to the advancement of human civilization through written record and print.

In this exhibition, Son casts a broad question of how ink can be used; from traditional East Asian ink to calligraphy ink and even acrylic ink, he explores and experiments. The 43 smaller works are created from various colors of ink or from a mixture of traditional East Asian ink and Western ink. Some paintings are composed in the mode of traditional East Asian paintings but using ink. Immediately apparent upon entering the exhibition is that the artist has actively utilized forms of comic book panels and speech balloons, calligraphy, and graffiti - most of which are not present in previous works. Ink in the West had been primarily understood as being exclusively for penmanship. What can be done with ink? Surely, 'writing' is one answer. The smaller works not only show a utilization of ink beyond color and materiality, but also considerations of ink's inherent functionality, expressing characters and linear evocations of characters. The underlying form of each painting is that of a portrait, yet each is more of an exploration of a new medium by means of a portrayed figure.

The larger paintings ? eight in total - refine and crystallize the ideas and approaches spread across the 43 smaller works. Electric Lady, People People, and Wildfire are all derivations from a singular form, expressed using different methods using ink, and brushing styles. People People was created in a formative homage to the calligraphic paintings of Korean-born French painter Lee Ungno and Korean oriental painter Suh Se-ok. Untitled(Blue) depicts a fictional character made of words. Words in Korean - 무제, Chinese - 無題, and English -untitled, each meaning untitled, form the imaginary figure's body and clothing pattern. Scarlet Crimson uses reddish color inks ink to structure Chinese synonyms for varying shades of red ? jeok (赤), hong (紅), dan (丹), dju (朱) - into a graffiti-like painting.

D.R.A.G.O.N, Scales, and Emperor are each based on the Chinese character ryong (龍 - dragon), signifying dragon. The Chinese character ryong's earlier forms as oracle-bone characters show an elongated serpentine figure with a giant maw, antlers, and an impressive beard. Dragons are mythical creatures present in both East Asian and Western mythologies, although with opposite sentiments. In the East Asia, the dragon was recognized as an auspicious being with divine power. In the Western and Christendom, the dragon was a symbol of evil; a figure to be cast out-or even better-beheaded and conquered. Zh?ng Y? from Wei of the Three Kingdoms (220?280 A.D) is the compiler of earliest extant Chinese encyclopedia, the Guangya (廣雅). In it, the author describes the appearance of the dragon as a hybrid of 9 different animals: He likens the dragon to having the head of a camel (駝), antlers of a deer (鹿), eyes of a rabbit (兎), ears of a cow (牛), the neck/vertebrae of a snake (蛇), the abdomen of a clam (蜃), scales of a carp (鯉), talons of a hawk (鷹), and the paws of a tiger (虎). D.R.A.G.O.N positions nine abovementioned Chinese characters to the corresponding part of the dragon. Emperor presents a fictional figure wardrobed with features representing the nine animals, each characteristic placed on the corresponding body parts. Scales is the cursive form of ryong (龍), created from smaller components, inspired by the legend that the dragon's anatomy has 81 scales.

Donghyun Son did not distinguish between painting and writing, between text and image. The question of why he chose not to, may be better answered by those who created the hieroglyphic precursors more than 3,500 years ago. The characters certainly could not have been an epiphanous revelation, delivered to bare outstretched hands. Of course, there would have been an observation of the world around them, identifying units of verifiable ideas and thoughts that would serve as the vehicle for the written word. This connection is a testimony to the visceral relationship between the hieroglyph-based characters and the objects they depict; the signifier and the signified. Pictures that can communicate elaborate meaning is essentially what characters and texts are. In the East Asia, writing and drawing was considered of one body. Traditional East Asian ink can take the form of text and also form, through its manipulation of lines. The artist adds ink (in the Western sense) to further expand on this inherent versatility, simultaneously showcasing his distinctive brush style in both painting (描法) and writing (筆法).

Ink on Paper II as an exhibition launches forward from the human figure but gives it little pause thereafter. The exhibition moves on to formative explorations of what the inks can realize. In addition to his visual works, Donghyun Son expresses text-characters in ink as living organisms. Sahyeong chwisang (捨形取象 ? an expression in East Asian painting theory, disregard the body and pursue the immanent spirit/image) argues that the image inherent to an object is not tangible to the eye, but identified via its action, or its gi (氣-energy). This is not to say such energy is limited to that of giwoon saengdong (氣韻生動 - 'breath energy and rhythmic vitality' or 'breath, resonance and vital force'), as Son's works encompass text, and by extension mungi (文氣-literary energy). Aristotle's definition of the plot - how events converge and behaviors change - is essentially a disregard of the body in pursuit of the immanent. Donghyun Son creates immanent images (text and painting), recognizing it as a living organism and enriching it with character and context. Son explains that while painting Emperor from the description of nine animals, a thought passed, 'if this mythical being were actual, it would think itself as the modern-day dragon; either the hero or the villain'. And so goes the plot enriched by text and imagery.
D.R.A.G.O.N., 종이에 먹, 잉크, 아크릴릭 잉크 
ink and acrylic ink on paper, 194x130cm(212x130cm), 2019-2020