MARCH 8, 2023 – MAY 27, 2023
Korean artist Jeong Min Suh (Jeonnam, Korea, 1962) is known for his singular ability to infuse new life into discarded scraps of traditional Korean calligraphy and literati ink paintings, creating elaborate paper works that blur distinctions between painting and sculpture. Taking its impetus from recent developments in Suh’s practice, Beyond the Line presents a group of three-dimensional compositions in which the artist draws on the simplicity of the line — as both a design element and visual metaphor — to explore ideas of tradition, continuity and the principles underlying the natural order of the world around us.
In his practice, Suh salvages discarded scraps of hanji paper, traditional Korean mulberry paper, bearing calligraphic texts of ancient wisdom and knowledge. He tightly compresses the scraps into individual layers, effectively taking the paper back to its original state. The compressed layers are then rolled into solid cylindrical units, which he cuts to unveil the layers of the transformed calligraphy, resembling the lines of time much like the rings of a tree. Suh assembles these reconstructed paper units into visually stunning sculptural compositions of three-dimensional forms emerging from the surface as tangible reinterpretations of ancient wisdom. Reflecting the Taoist principles of balance, harmony, and unity, these works embody a fusion of the past with the present, creating liminal spaces that seem to balance on a line between two worlds.
Suh’s artistic engagement with the line draws from his studies of Eastern thought and the teachings of Lao Tzu. Faintly discernible slices of exposed calligraphic lines hint at the unseen core of the paper units and an internal dialogue between the past and the present. The artist poses the essence of the line as a dual state of being and non-being, in that it comes out of nothing, becomes something tangible, and continues in a rhythmic cycle of returning back to nothing.
In addition to Eastern philosophy, Suh’s work has been informed by the tradition of calligraphy, one of Korea’s most revered art forms dating back to ancient times. The line in Korean calligraphy is not simply a means of conveying information or writing characters, but rather a medium of artistic expression in its own right. Suh’s practice is a continuity of this tradition, creating compositions that reconstruct the subtle sculptural beauty and proportional balance of calligraphy’s use of the line to form boundaries and structure within empty space.
As Lines of Travel 99, Lines of Travel 94 and Shout 5 exquisitely display, the balance of nothingness and unity is not static, but rather is a dynamic force. Amassed paper units conceal endless layers of hidden lines that teem with the tension of tiny variations in tone and texture, creating a sense of flowing movement across the picture plane. Their undulating surfaces reflect nature’s balanced harmony, reminiscent of wind blowing in rice fields or the ebb and flow of water along the path of a river.
Exploring the visual power of contrasts to delineate boundaries, works such as Line 33, Line 12 and Absence of Worldly Desire 32 allude to modern interpretations of the mandala, a traditional depiction of the cosmos. These monotonal compositions exude a quiet, yet intense, dynamic energy, which the artist adeptly captures in bold swaths of contrasting black and white space and intuitive splashes of color to reveal the presence of interconnected harmony that is intrinsic to the work itself.
For Suh, the line is a powerful metaphor, denoting more than just an edge or contour; it serves as an agent for the essence of life itself. Interweaving conceptual threads of creation, destruction and renewal, he reconfigures the past with his own unique aesthetic language, generating sculptural tapestries that embody mysteries that are “as deep as the source of all things”.