About Kwang Lee’s Water Paintings
By Barbara Birg-Rahmann, translated by Karsten Hagemann
Kwang Lee‘s paintings become alive between day and night. The fading daylight veils the colours and blurs the forms. Our eyes get strained until darkness triumphs. The reflections of reality are enveloped by the night and become invisible to our sight. But nevertheless, they are still present.
In Kwang Lee’s paintings, the lakes of Berlin and landscapes of Davos are shining under a deep blue night sky in a mysterious light. It is neither an observed light like the objects of study for the impressionists nor is it orchestrated. The objects seem to be glowing from within themselves. Their very own essences are shining, strangely and familialy at the same time to the beholder. It is a vaguely sensed light which Kwang Lee is expressing. The darkness robs her of the most important sense for a painter but strengthens her perception of the hidden nature of things.
On the smooth mirrors of the lakes, the artist herself engages in a dialogue with the light. The surfaces form the canvas of nature. On it, we curiously observe the reality surrounding us. Through the refraction of light, it appears new to us and in unusual proportions. The movement of the water dissolves the static constructs. Kwang Lee’s pictorial compositions always direct the viewer’s attention back at the calm and still moving mirrors.
„The highest good is like water. Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive.“ 1
The revlections do not build up any tensions. They live in peace while being certain of carrying the truth. The vessels of the lakes are filled to the brim with water. This element is bestowing the surrounding entities with their existence. Its strength can be felt through the interaction of the colors and through the compositorial work of its reflection in the environment.
In Kwang Lee’s creations, the body of thought of asian philosophy and the western painting tradition unite virtuously. She was educated rigorously to pictorial analysis at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf but turns regulary to unification in her intellectual classification. Wassily Kandinsky and his companions had to fight hard for the acceptance of “non-figurativeness” as an expression of the “purely spiritual”, the transcendent. And how far has this association become one with our western way of thinking. The asian art of painting never had to distance itself from materiality. And neither did Kwang Lee.
1 Lao-tse, Tao-Tê-King, The Complete Tao Te Ching. Translated by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English. Vintage Books, 1989, chapter 8.
I wander around the Davos Lake.
By Yushin Ra, translated by Karsten Hagemann
It is a beautiful painting, a calm and peaceful one. A lake, trees, leaves, ice, water, sky, Switzerland and Davos. The bright green white colors seem to be dreaming. The trees, the mountains and the lake only show their vaguely recognizable but not unfamiliar silhouettes. In this lyrical and romantic landscape, one should be able to relax. It seems, one one could say to be happy here.
At the same time, it can be observed that the landscapes are a bit corroded. Corrosion causes deformation and blurs the borders between objects. So, the trees become a forest, the lake a mountain. Corrosion transforms a familiar object into something alien and brings forth never known faces. But no such corrosion can be seen in Kwang Lee’s paintings. The blurring here is not of this kind. The transformations shown here do not make us uncomfortable nor do they confuse us. At first sight, the corrosion of the contours of the objects seems to invite us to a journey from the real lake into a dream. But will we reach this dream lake at the end of the tour?
In the light of this question, let us focus our attention on the dots which disguise the large surfaces and dissolve themselves. By their number, they frame the landscapes. In some of Kwang Lee’s paintings they fill the whole area. Sometimes there is just a single emphasized one. What are these dots? Where do they come from? Do they belong to the landscapes or are they fragments of the light which is shining on the artist’s canvas? In one instance of focusing on the colorful dots, something interesting happens. The dots connect and form an invisible sphere between the viewer and the landscape. The landscape steps behind the sphere and the viewer’s gaze meets at first only the veil of the dots. We do not meet the landscape immediately. Directly reachable are only the dots which seem more real at this point.
The landscape had already lost its reality as it was being deformed by partial endlessness. Through the veil of the dots it becomes even more of a dream because a dream can only emerge on the backdrop of reality. But again, what are these dots which are real themselves but alter the reality into a dream? I want to insinuate that they are a consciousness. While being always there, a consciousness normally stays in the background. Only for special occasions, it emerges on the surface. In Kwang Lee’s paintings, a consciousness was summoned and dragged into the foreground. It is roaming around the painting as if it wanted to prove its existence.
When is the time when a consciousness is called on to come forward? When is one asked to submit an alibi of one’s own consciousness? It is said often, that a painting is a window to another world. The window as a medium is normally hidden in the pictures so that we see not a picture but a lake, a mountain or trees instead. The fact that we see only a picture and not the objects themselves, that they are illusions instead of reality, all that should normally be hidden in the background. The dots of Kwang Lee seem to be an inner indicator which exposes the illusion. They expose that what we see behind the veil of the dots is not a lake but just a picture. And that there really is only a consciousness who witnesses the illusions. In this manner, it puts the fact of being an illusion (or of being a picture) of the painting in the background and becomes the subject itself.
When a medium becomes visible, that is when its existence becomes known. Then it is all about truth. At what is Kwang Lee’s question of truth directed? Which truth is she questioning? Did she just ask about it. What is it? Is it the Davos Lake, a painting, an illusion, a dream? I know that the artist did not ultimately target this question. But it seems to me as if this question about reality and illusion made its presence felt during the creative process. The colorful dots floating around in Kwang Lee’s painting lead to this topic and appeal to us to seek answers.
The paintings of lakes of Kwang Lee were created within her project “The four Elements”. Water, earth and wind are often representatives of nature. But the old philosophers searched them for the elementary truths of the cosmos as well. This leads us to interpret Kwang Lee’s water not as an all enduring mother but as the first element of existence. Can the painting “Davos Lake” be read as a longing for substantial existence? Perhaps, you will be interested in considering this question yourself while looking at the paintings!
Temperamental Paintings full of Symbols of Transience
By Meike Nordmeyer, translated by Karsten Hagemann
Wuppertal. Die Künstlerin Mua Kwang Lee is positioned on the verge between representational and abstract painting. Leaning ometimes more, sometimes less to one side she brings both together suspensefully. The young Korean and Berliner-by-choice studied at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf as master student of Markus Lüpertz. The Janzen gallery in the Kolkmannhaus is now showing her paintings and works on paper.
“Do not be fooled by the palatable colors.”, says gallerist Martina Janzen at the vernissage. Because the temperamental, fresh works deal with existential questions like death, pain, fear and sorrow. In the three landscapes showing an autumn forest one can see a skull and a monkey is sitting on a fallen tree. In another painting, a skeleton is sitting on a wooden chair. Candles and mirrors are further symbols of transience.
Repeatedly, birds or their outlines can be sensed. They allegorize freedom and impeded, cropped opportunity for development in particular. They are oftentimes linked to misfortune and anxiety. The monkey especially is an important symbol of the artist because of its ambiguity. In western history of art, it symbolizes greed, lewdness and malice. In Asia, it points to wisdom and is considered as a protective deity against evil.
They are profound paintings full of energy. The artist realizes this opulent colorfulness through egg tempera, oil and color pigments. She applies this mixture with dynamic brushstrokes and a gestural style. Sometimes, she paints over dried paint and creates multiple layers. The paths formed by droplets belong to the paintings as well, the painter wants to include the formation process into her imagery.
The exhibition’s eye-catcher is the large scale painting “Starry night in the Fischtal” from 2009 consisting of three composed canvasses. This nocturnal lake scenery with delicate mood and light reflections pays respect to the Monet exhibition in the Von der Heydt museum and shows a confident handwriting.