3 Mar 2022 — 2 Apr 2022

 Donghyun Son's page
Donghyun Son
Ink on Paper Ⅲ

Donghyun Son’s solo exhibition Ink on Paper III is the last of his three-part series on the theme of painting materials. Ink on paper is an iterative phrase on many of Son’s work descriptions. The three-part exhibition format came to the artist while he was contemplating new directions for his work, and began exploring the material descriptions in his own works, and approached the materials as a theme. Son’s 2015 exhibition theme was meok (墨 - Traditional East Asian ink), and his 2020 exhibition theme was meok and ink. This third and final exhibition in 2022 is on the theme of paper.

The material used as the foundation of the painting is hanji (韓紙 - Traditional handmade paper using mulberry pulp), which has distinctly different properties to its Western counterparts. Its pulp is desiccated without the pressing and rolling to even out and remove excess moisture, resulting in noticeable gaps between the pulp fibers. Unlike its Western counterparts, hanji pulp does not contain rosin or talc powder to prevent ink from seeping and running. Made only from mulberry-derived fiber, water or dyes seep in exceptionally well. Traditional painting in the Orient are largely iterations to this material characteristic. The gaps and the translucence of hanji is misunderstood for material weakness, but the fiber gives it a significant amount of toughness. Crumpled hanji recovers its original flat form when sprayed with water, and the paper has enough substance to stand in its edge when folded. It is no surprise this resilient paper was used in the East Asia as material for drawing pads, collapsible fans, and hanging scrolls, usually with a painting on them.

While gathering focus on the material of paper, there are also some elements that are excluded. First is color. While the artist’s previous exhibition utilized colored ink extensively, this exhibition only uses meok in its own monochrome state. Son limited his use of color in order to maximize stable seeping and setting of meok on hanji. Second is character. Donghyun Son’s past works have been a display of the artist’s impressive grasp on modes/techniques in traditional character portraits. His later works also showed conjugations of those modes and techniques to focus on the character form, but this third exhibition is completely devoid of any character forms. Third and most interesting is that his latest exhibited works were created without the use of a brush. Most paintings are drawn using brushes, but hardly any of them mention it in the medium or the material portion of the painting’s caption. In solidarity to that idea, the artist decided to paint sumukhwa (水墨畵 - ink and wash painting) using diverse tools and techniques, but all without a brush.

Flat works like <3P06> are great examples of hanji returning to its original form after being crumpled. The artist crumples up hanji into the form of a mountain, and applies mists of meok using a sprayer. The crumpled hanji sprayed with meok is dried, then sprayed gently with water before straightening over a flat drawing board, where it is attached. The meok applied to the crumple takes on the form of mountain tops and valleys, and further sprays and stencil methods are employed to accentuate the dynamic lines of the mountain and to add clouds. Once the process is complete, hanji is removed from the drawing board and laid over a Duplo (children’s brick-based building sets) building plate to rub and add depth. Donghyun Son’s sumuk-sansuhwa (ink-wash painting of idealized mountains and waters) does not paint mountains and waters on screen but manifests them both in flat and three-dimension form on paper medium.
The artist describes sansuhwa as the pivot point that allowed him to be playful and explore as a means of seeking enlightenment and action. Sansuhwa presents nature, but it is hardly an objective reproduction. That is not its point. It is an abstract ink painting (寫意畵 - conceptual ink painting) that is heavily based on the artist’s poetic and literary sensibility (詩情 - poetic state of mind). For hundreds of years in Korean history, sumuk-sansuhwa was a favorite style of painting alongside sagunja (四君子 - four noble ones/blossoms), among scholars and literati. These scholars were often highly accomplished in academia, cultured, and skilled in brushwork - be it painting or calligraphy. They knew how to see through phenomena, past the details and identify underlying structures and essences. Their sumuk-sansuhwa brushworks were often described as enjoyable, a pursuit and embodiment of Tao. Perhaps it was also a form of play for them. The dynamic gradations of meok on hanji, its seeping and spreading, the colorful tones and expressive lines and compositions - what could have been more free and imaginative in those days? The artist imagined those literati as having painterly sentiments similar to himself.

As a hanji-themed solo exhibition, the artist presents several interesting possibilities for hanji. A hanging scroll painting made by laying toy train tracks over hanji and spraying meok; sansuhwa and dragon picture albums stood upright in various ways; and the black cloud folding fans were created with great freedom, not only in terms of mounting methods but techniques such as stenciling and rubbing. While the artist’s past flat works sought the employment of combined techniques on a single work, his most recent exhibition presents works featuring varying mounting methods split across different spaces what would have otherwise been a singular element.

Donghyun Son wanted the paintings on the wall and all other pieces in the space to match as a singular set. While the paintings started as a crumpled hanji and unraveled itself into something more. The hanging scrolls, albums, and folding fans started flat on the drawing table and took on different forms for exhibition display. Son explains that he wanted to show opposite directions between three-dimensional to flat and flat to three-dimensional. The exhibition is the outcome of deep ponderance on something other than the painting drawn by a brush, and a playful exploration of the supporting material that is hanji. Taking his cue, the spectator must also be mindful of the ‘ink on paper’ materials, rather than ruminating on what East Asian paintings are, and what sansuhwa are. And if it came down to ink or paper, this exhibition places greater emphasis on paper.
Installation view