The ideal and the real, and the meeting with the classics
-On the Chuljoo Suk's idealized formative world

Sang Cheol, Kim(Art Critic)

    Paintings full of dream-like fantasy, as if a large mass of iceberg were melting, or like shimmering heat waves; these are the unmistakable idiosyncratic characteristics of Chuljoo's works. Immensely light, as if floating in the air, Chuljoo’s work still retains its solemn weight. His pictures float in the space, as if all the things depicted have an organic life of their own. His works neither sink in the concrete anchoring that is the frame, nor do they drift into inherently subjective ambiguity. The work’s voice is extremely delicate and soft. Although visible to the naked eye, Chuljoo’s paintings ask to be sincerely and intuitively sensed. While founded within the visual, the work offers a fantastic panorama delivered through vibration and rings out like an ornamental sound technique while playing a string instrument.

    A series of his works named 「New Scenery in Dream」could be a just representative style that contain the artist's character and specialty perfectly. The landscape style picture summarized with specified colors is thrilling through its leisurely style. It does not manifest itself merely in its physical dimensions, but also by its mental scale of the depth and size of the space which it contains. The amusement and fun of the landscape in which grand mountains become harmonious is definitely his own. It is familiar to the viewers because it maintains a familiar landscape style, but his landscape paintings do not follow the traditional landscape painting style. His landscapes isolate nature to a secluded setting, while also excluding any complex and authoritative didacticism. He draws mountains, yet doesn't display the mountains. Instead he scales down the shape of the mountains to express the air and while bringing attention to the remote, negative space. Composed this way, his landscape is built to create a certain distance from the spectators. This distance, which exists like a margin, is the exact point at which the ideal and the real cross and merge. He displays the border line of the ideal nature, which became forgotten like a dim legend using the very old landscape painting style and wanders through the strong symbolic space and the peach orchard as if in a dream. It might be the lost paradise of a dream, where his imagination serves as the viewers' only entrance.

    His peach orchard (Paradise Lost) maintains this aforementioned distance from its spectators. The mountains are broken down, and then rise to then become reconstructed, so that the ideal of the artist becomes concrete. It could be delivered only through the traces of his movements and not revealed through poor explanation. Therefore in his works the share of the artist and the share of the spectators are divided obviously. It could be the border of the ideal and the real, the separation of the holiness and the secular. However he does not divide the boundary with intention or overriding authority. He only divides the share of the artist as an activist and the share of the spectator. His dreamy wandering could not be limited because there is no intentional explanation. Because there is no modification and no verbal explanation, the boundary could be expanded ad infinitum and could be perceived in myriad ways, potentially making way for countless and subjective utopic peach orchards.

    This artist's sight and understanding toward nature seems to be the standing rule and theme which the artist consistently returns to throughout his work. This keynote is also maintained still in his works named 「The Memory of Nature」. His works summarize and represent ordinary trivial impressions, full of traces of countless mundane movements. Sometimes they build up shapes, other times they reveal the shapes. The goal of the activity is not merely the revelation of the shape, but to give  meaning to itself and make a regular rhythm and metrical unit. In fact, the part one should pay attention to in his works is not the expressed content but rather the traces of the fortuity made by accumulation of his movements and the atypical order made by these fortuities. For him the activity of drawing is not reflected as a result but as a gerunding process. The accumulation of countless activities are reflected as a formation of concrete shapes through collision and contrast, harmony and balance. The work is a harmony of complex relativity, like chance and inevitability, both visible and invisible.  The composition of the flower pot appears like a silhouette among thick and abundant leaves as real to nature could be judged. It could be the contrast of nature and artificiality and also the contrast of artificiality and randomness. It would be the ideal and the real, the artificiality and the randomness and the contrast of the visible fact and the sensible truth.

    Though he uses a new formative style escaped from the traditional material, various traditional oriental painting elements are found throughout his works. It is also present in his approach to the material, much like his approach to the traditional landscape. One could say his work is not a description or a representation but instead the revelation of  feeling and the senses. Though the quiet movements become formative elements one by one, they eventually blend and merge together, as one, tied together and married by the frame. A living documentation, the work contains regular rhythm and metrical units, as if it reflects the artist's breathing. A flattening of dimensions is present, as the artist merges fore and background within the large picture plane, and this shows that he is not interested in the visible reality, but in something different which is expressed by itself. Like a phrase "Iheongsasin", that is, spiritual thought expressed through formative expression, the artist pays attention to the immanent space of a more abundant resonance that stems from the quiet underbelly of artistic expression. It makes not only all kinds of interpretation and variation marginal, but also brings forth positivity that is liable to form different meanings and values.

    The interest of the artist in the landscape and nature now confronts old classics. In fact, the painting「New Scenery in Dream」is also an subjective adaptation of 「Scenery in Dream」by Ahn Gyeon, which is one of the classics of Korean art and his works using the shape of white porcelains and Buncheong (Grayish blue powdered) celadon also take advantage of the existing classical canon. However, the new attempt of the artist is not a negative one but rather produces a different situation accomplished through the direct confrontation with the works of his artistic ancestors, which are rooted in tradition. The change of character of space in Jo Hi Ryong's painting「A House with plum tree」, Jeon Gi's painting「A house with plum tree」, Gang Hi Eon's painting「The Mountain Inwang」through the magnification according to the actual ratio or a slight modification are proof of this as well. The adaptation of these works, which were originally as big as a drawing book or scroll, transform small pictures into pictures ten times their own size and provoke a strong visual impulse. Because they are already familiar to us, they do not seem strange but the newly interpreted parts of the classic works impart a different and rejuvenating feeling. Then what would be the thing that artist encounters through this? It might not be the blind imitation or servile following. However, he would in no case depend on the visual effect made through the simple magnification. As already in the painting「New wandering in a peach orchard in a dream」, he attempts to merge his fresh vision with the old past through the adaptation and reinterpretation of the classics. It could be interpreted that he reflects on contemporary life and judges his position through this. This new attempt of the artist is reminiscent of the Korean verse Sijo of Toegye Yi Hwang(A famous scholar during Yi dynasty):

The deceased could not see me I also cannot see them
Though I cannot see the deceased the way they went is before me
When the way they went is before me, how can I go another way

    Though we cannot see the ancestors to learn and obtain enlightenment, he attempts to begin a dialogue through direct confrontation via the works and his practice. And he will study the reason and the principles, fumbling with the point of a pen, following the pathway the ancestors wandered and left behind.

    Its value is not in the shapes made by the mere representation of old paintings but rather in the quiet spiritual world they contain. In contemporary times, in which change has become a daily event, speed is regarded as an important value and materialistic wealth has become the standard of life, he commands a view of today as filtered through an appreciation of the simple, the rural and the unworldly. It might not be the unessential things expressed through wit or technique, but the essential thing which is deeply rooted in the spirit. As these works expressed the idealized nature newly through the adaptation and interpretation of the painting 「New Scenery in Dream」, it undoubtedly reveals another spiritual value through the confrontation with the classics.

    In fact, his works do not pursue any new things solidly in regard to the material. Fantastic landscapes as idealized nature or fragments of the memory collected from daily trivial impressions, all the works using porcelain are also the adaptation of already existing things. Among them, what can be counted on one's fingers is that he takes notice of the meaning of tradition through extremely canonical and classical themes or the germinated and matured special sense in relation with the life of our nation for a long time. He gets into conversation with the past through very traditional things, and confronts with the time today and value of presence. Though it is fossilized, worn out and old-fashioned, yet it obtains another meaning by securing new life power through his adaptation. When we think of the fact that though there were efforts to reinterpret and recover the tradition, there was always an air of mere borrowing. The obvious sense of value and the dedication he shows consistently through his whole works deliver us an obvious message in the present day. He pays attention to the other values existing beyond the shapes steadily and makes efforts to secure their expression.

    It might be out of fashion to divide genres and the division of tradition in modern times is worn-out. Yet the genesis and critique of our contemporary art making practices still need these criteria and principles to some extent. What Chuljoo Suk, as an artist, shows is not the disposition of a practice that follows the obstinate tradition, and surely not the blind adaptation of the tradition. He confronts  tradition on the basis of the firm recognition of his own identity, and breathes contemporarily with and through it. Thus his works are familiar yet new, strange but friendly. At the slightest slip he could be buried in the boundlessly deep swamp of tradition, but the artist overcomes it dexterously and wisely. He does not stare at the tradition or things, but sees them from a certain distance with a viewpoint of contemplation. Because such a distance was secured, he could be free from the value, meaning and weight of the object, while also drafting new possible adaptations. This is, without a doubt, a direct result of the ability of the artist.

    The amount of works presented is really quite enormous. Besides the quantity, most of the exhibited works are physically and contextually large, in regards to the space. The artistic process he portrays is the breaking down of thick and stubborn frames, continuously. His works are not a one-sided thing going forward in the name of the presence, but a familiar thing made with the security of the enough space of sympathy. He is future-oriented through the old past, while confirming today's coordinates where he is through fierce self discipline. Judging from the aspects of forward thought he presented and the result of fierce speculation, his new attempt and approach are enough to expect other progressions in the field of painting.