Park Chong Suk, Gwangju Artist

Since 2008 Park Chong Suk has hit a blue period. He uses the story of the moon over Mudeongsan repeatedly, but in completely different motifs, ranging from small landscapes to “cityscapes,” to full-blown poems painted out with hikers from yesteryear. Even within one exhibit many styles are on display.

Now that we’re in the 21st century, artists who strive to express themselves in new ways are more prized than those who settle in to a known style, mostly because they know it will sell. Park can never be accused of being “commercialized,” or painting in a way he knows will “work” with the public, as his approach remains multifaceted, even within a single painting.

In “Old Mt. Mudeong” the top of the painting is both old-style and, in the sky, quite modern, while the bottom half of the painting depicts present-day hikers in a contemporary watercolor style. The clouds are particularly interesting because their shapes become the only continuity, if any, to be found as you walk from one painting to another. His constant quest to examine a moving life means Park’s style is also never static.

The warped rocks in “White Cloud Always Goes Together” evoke the German expressionism found on the 1920 movie set of Robert Wiene’s “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” yet he is also adept at very tight graphic scenes of pastoral life in Korea

(“A Drink of Makgeolli”) and dreamy impressionism

(“Nobody Can’t Climb”). Another unifying force is the poetry, ancient poetry, written as borders on the sides of the paintings.

The hikers in “White Cloud Always Goes Together” take on less importance, allowing the German expressionist style to work, as yellow clouds form clusters that dominate the painting while a warped red mountain appears to have a Llasa-like temple atop, until closer inspection yields another version of the “Ip Suk Dae” rocks. A yearning sea of gray and yellow strains to make friends with unyielding black rocks. The broad-minded view finds a resonance with the Hudson River School of American painting in the mid 1800s, with such heavy hitters as Thomas Cole and William Hart, who painted very small humans into panoramic landscapes to show their belief that nature towers over mankind, and should be seen as more important than mankind. Park also has humans yield to the power of nature in this work.

His mountain theme spreads past Mudeongsan when huddled hikers in “Go Together” start up a mountain in the Himalayas. Park himself spent three months in the spring and summer of 2011 in Nepal, and we expect another expansion into Himalayan landscapes upon his return.

(Quite the mountaineer, Park successfully reached the peak of Tharpu Chul (Tent Peak) which is 5663 meters high on November 1, 2009 according to a certificate form the Nepal Mountaineering Association. What tales he tells of these treacherous climbs.)

“Go Together” has the same sky that demands to be seen as a separate subject, not just clouds floating in the sky, but white shapes both abstract and forceful in which the white “clouds” seem to be looking back at us: as cat eyes, as a Zoro mask, as icebergs broken off from a shelf in Greenland, now, due to the warmer earth, somehow floating in the sky.

In “Song: Spring Flower Looks Like Burning” his changing desires show a postmodern scene that, from a long ways away, has the festival look of a carnival dance in Rio De Janeiro. It is hard to interpret why red ground is littered with “raining rocks” of fluorescent green and yellow. Five bleached-out hikers bring us back to Mudeongsan, while the repeating solid blue and with white clouds, so demanding of obedience, even in the background, are able to draw attention from the jarring contrasts already too much for many eyes to bear. The calming factors, if they can be called such, are the ochre-hued “Ip Suk Dae” rocks, but this small painting is not for the timid, nor the breakfast nook. Such a jolt, immediately post-coffee, might give the ol’ ticker more than it would want. Serious color lovers will fall in love with this one though, even if the inscrutable rocks present a difficult explanation to any potential house guests.

In the moonlit night of “Memory (Full Moon)” we find the opposite extreme: Ip Suk Dae, star-filled sky, and a moon, one assumes the strong moon on a cold winter night of legend, that his fellow artist Oh Kyun Kyu extols, are realistically depicted in order to augment the poetry (rather than steal the show). Thus, nature does not need any stylistic contrivance in Park’s view.

Another limited-palette piece “Buddha´s Disciples” finds a lotus-legged Buddha resurrected and praying at Jeungsimsa, a slightly counter-intuitive choice for a resurrection, but fitting nicely into this group of paintings. The Buddha is calm, naturally, though flanked by a mass of splotched black abstraction with just enough color contrast to keep us from praying the wall doesn’t crumble down on Him. Park’s pleasant Mudeongsan is topped by the most irritating white-green and like-colored Ip Suk Dae. Well, if he wanted to be bold both philosophically and as a painter, this one qualifies. Though not cosmically stimulating, the wall on the left is presented with a red-line frame that requests that we read it as a hefty “anti-poem” to the words on the right. Buddha then, among the best ever at remaining calm in the face of diabolical dilemmas, radiates, outshining the moon, unfazed, even by the green toppings Park put on Mudeongsan.

This artist, so quietly well-known, yet extremely dedicated, and humble, was collected by the late President Roh Moo Hyun. It is indeed humbling to be in Gwangju, where so many artists paint on, even in the face of an area unable to support the arts the way it would like. Almost everyone, regardless of profession has creative abilities here, from singing to dance, to paper-folding to Tae Kwon Do.

What makes Park Chong Suk stand out is his ability to take a very tight theme of mountains, hiking and moon and present it in five different styles, all in his own way, all in one show.

A Stand out this time is “Moon Light Song” with its “halo” moon above a “cityscape” which is, again, the Ip Suk Dae, as painted with the twinkling “lights” both fireflies and stars that allow the viewer to be transported to the 1920s or 30s, when New York cityscapes pushed into the best galleries. In this case he pushes the local fabled mountain back in time, while leaving with us a timeless souvenir from which large smiles made n Gwangju can last forever.

One Response to “Park Chong Suk, Gwangju Artist”
  1. segmation says:

    Nice blog about Park and his paintings. Thomas Cole was born in England but moved to the United States as a youth. His talents for painting were soon discovered and his works focused on landscapes. Please check out my blog and let me know what you think!

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