Play : Pray – The relationship between the poetic imagery and mental imagery

Apr 17, 2016 7:18AM

Play : Pray – The relationship between the poetic imagery and mental imagery


Byun Jong Pil (Art Critic and Director, Yangju City Chang Ucchin Museum of Art)  


In Drawing a Stroke on the Water, I tried to go into the intuitive essence of art, ‘play,’ through expressing infinity by one brushstroke like a play with water and paper. Also, in Air and Dream, I tried to ‘pray’ as this work involves prayer and the meditational practice of layering small and subtle-colored traditional handmade paper. I intended to take out the burden of daily life and embrace nature.

- Artist Statement -


  Gaston Bachelard said, ”The imaginative power of our mind is based on two distinctively different roots,” in his book, Water and Dreams. One is enjoying the leaping point of a new start, like various illustrative and unexpected events, and another is digging into the origin of being to see the primary and eternal elements within[1].

  Bachelard’s two types of imaginative power are associated with the characteristics of the artist’s creative process. They are also connected with the title of Kang Un’s exhibition, Play : Pray.

  Imaginative power can create the shape of ‘nature (cloud)’ endlessly without ‘reality (nature)’. It also stimulates the artist who is trying to find out the foundation of the natural elements (cloud, air, water, and etc.) and express their characteristics visually.

  Play : Pray summarizes Kang’s art in short. ‘Pray’ is the subject of Air and Dreams, in which he searched from his earlier series, ‘oil painting cloud,’ to the recent series, ‘handmade paper cloud.’ ‘Play’ is the subject of Drawing a Stroke on the Water which went further from the cloud series.

  First of all, from the literal point of view, ‘play’ is behavioral and ‘pray’ is psychological. Drawing a Stroke on the Water shows ‘play’ as part of his working process: Kang placed handmade paper on the acrylic board and sprayed water in the air, and water drops landed on the paper. However, Air and Dreams was made through the contemplating process of adding one layer of thin paper after another to build up the multiple layers. This work exemplifies the ‘pray’ part, as this is a meditational practice, emptying the self except the only necessary stuff.

  However, this could be perceived totally differently depending on the viewer’s point of view or background. For example, if we look at Drawing a Stroke on the Water through a different viewer’s point of view, the action--‘one dot one brushstroke (Eastern painting tradition)’ without self-awareness--could be seen as a meditational practice. Then, Drawing a Stroke on the Water can be also read as based on ‘pray.’ Air and Dream can be interpreted differently as well. The action of the artist filling the canvas with pieces of handmade paper can be read as based on ‘play’ apart from the artist’s intention.

  Like this case, Play : Pray can be read differently depending on how we find the meaning of the creative process, either focusing on the action or the mental. Although Play : Pray is contrary in meaning, the interpretation and the meaning the artist is seeking is not completely separated. As reason and emotion seemed opposite but they are not divided completely, Play : Pray represents the fateful relationship which repeats itself in the creative process.


  In order to understand more deeply about the relationship between Play : Pray, we need to look at Kang’s art closely.

  Every day, Kang tried to express the existence of clouds and nature, by revealing the irregularity and infinity that the shape of a cloud has. It has been over twenty years pursing the world of reality where no one has ever been--the world of Idea or what the artist is hoping and dreaming through his painting.

  “At birth, my name bears a cloud (Un雲 means a cloud). I might have a very sensitive place deep in my body.” (Quotes from artist statement) To him, the cloud is destined to be connected with him.

  Kang’s clouds can be categorized as oil painting clouds and handmade paper[2] clouds. Since 2000, the oil painting clouds show the depth and broadness of Kang’s sensitivity dealing with nature truthfully without pretentiousness or exaggeration. Those paintings came from the emotional experience when he looked at the sky in the countryside. He vigorously tried to capture the various characteristics--without an ounce of lie--color, shape, and movement of the clouds he saw at the landing strip in Naju city, east part of Hwasoon.

  Gaston Barchelard said, “Clouds are one of the dreaming and ‘poetic objects.” Like Barchelard’s expression, a cloud is one of many elements that create the world, and it leads people to the dreaming world. We associate the slowly moving cumulus with peacefully wandering sheep. Also, when we see the fast-moving cloud, we think about teleportation. Goethe analyzed the clouds and specified as ‘nebulous, cumulus, cirrus, and nimbus.’ As he told us about the different characteristics and symbolic beauty of each cloud, the cloud is the subject that gives a certain inspiration or dreamy quality.

  Kang’s cloud oil paintings are filled with passion to capture all the changes of the cloud like Charles Pierre Baudelaire’s description[3] about a landscape, “all these clouds with fantastic and illuminating shapes, the quiet darkness, and the vast green and rosy color blocks overlapping each other in the air…” They contain a lot of conflicted phenomena happening in a human’s life such as creation and extinction, peace and rage, happiness and sadness. In contrast with the visually strong oil painting clouds, the handmade paper clouds show the intention to express the sky as an infinite space as well as void. Small pieces of differently colored handmade paper are densely layered on the canvas like the colors of the sky as time passes from sunrise to sunset. The overlapped small areas on the canvas are naturally divided into bright and dark sections. The sky goes deeper as the process goes on; feather-like light and thin handmade paper pieces got scattered, overlapped, and piled endlessly. The small handmade paper pieces are densely placed and created layers. According to the number of layers, the shape and heaviness of the clouds differ. The desperation of the artist who wants to reach to the real world and a space of dream becomes floating clouds. Although the intense dynamic of the oil painting cloud often found in fast brushstrokes capturing the sky has disappeared, the thorough research and contemplation on the cloud went further.  This is when we can see the difference: the weight of being seems different between this early cloud series and the present one.


The cloud doesn’t have any certain shape. It is atypical and hard to be described as one shape. Therefore, it is actually impossible to depict ever-changing nature on a canvas without any omission. In fact, it represents the particular image reflected in the artist’s mind, not his eye. In this point of view, his handmade paper cloud is not a physical representation of the object but the expression of the image in the mind of the artist, who wants to realize the meaning of the life through clouds. Kang said that “the cloud I saw in my adolescence was about dreams and wanderlust; however, the cloud I see now in my recent years is about confession and humility, about how small and weak humans are.” Like Kang said, the cloud is ultimately the artist’s mind, like open soul and open space.


  From this point of view, Drawing a Stroke on the Water is much closer to the imagery in the mind. It is understandable for the artist to interpret small water drops as ‘human mind.’ The human mind is also his mind. The search of the mind continued in Drawing a Stroke on the Water.

  Drawing a Stroke on the Water and Air and Dream show different environments and circumstances. Drawing a Stroke on the Water can show various results because the way the water drop forms, and the range and shape of the water smudge differ depending on the humidity and temperature. In all these steps, chance works stronger than the artist’s intention. Therefore, the work is hardly completed as the artist expected. Just like the cycle of nature cannot be stopped, Kang’s work process involving running, dripping, and forming cannot be controlled.  If we look at the way of expression, Air and Dream is the result of repeated efforts (There isn’t any special incident as it was crucial to accumulate the repeated action.), and Drawing a Stroke on the Water is the accidental effect when the water and air meet at the certain moment. This accidental characteristic is exactly what the artist wanted. With the accidental quality, Drawing a Stroke on the Water brings up the meaning of practice to take care of one’s body and soul. Betting everything on ‘one dot and one brushstroke’ means equally emptying everything. It seems like filling something, but nothing was filled, or painting something, but it doesn’t shape anything. If we look for a meaning of this in Eastern philosophy, we can find the connection with what Lao-tzu said when he saw the obscure beauty of nature: “the shapeless shape and the image without certainty.”

  Air and water are from the same elements scientifically. A cloud is an aerosol comprising a visible mass of liquid droplets or frozen crystals made of water or various chemicals, often in white or gray. Therefore, a cloud is a light liquid mass. That liquid mass meets wind and forms shapes and disappears repeatedly. Drawing a Stroke on the Water is also the formation of liquid mass  mixed with paints on the handmade paper. A cloud moves in the aerial space, and water moves on the surface of the ground. A cloud and water, however, are not completely different chemically.


Fundamentally, the exhibition Play : Pray is a study on the real world searching through poetic and mental imageries.  Air and Dream emphasizes the behavioral aspect like depicting the visual image. Drawing a Stroke on the Water can be interpreted as a mental image rather than focusing on the action. However, they both share the same goal: recursive study and query about innocence, essence, and origin through Kang’s formative langue. It is the process to recover the true nature of oneself by stepping aside from the civilization and system. It is the artist’s choice to bring the natural environment from outside and depict it on the canvas, but approaching to the center of the inner sense after taking off the outward appearance. The point is how deeply can he look at the inner-self without the outer shell. Baudelaire said that it is harder to escape from the beauty of nature than refusing ‘meteorological beauty.’ Like he said, Kang’s cloud paintings, created with his own formative language, have irresistible beauty. Simultaneously, cloud paintings show his practice to include the real world depicted as clouds through numerous hours of difficult process. ‘Nature’, as metaphysically defined ‘reality’, is the current state of ‘cloud’ in Air and Dream. In the process, he stepped aside and tried to empty himself and created Drawing a Stroke on the Water as his mental practice. Kang started from a philosophical question, searching for ‘reality’ and through ‘cloud’ he reached to the world of reality (Idea). In summary, his work is the journey of seeking invisible and intangible ‘reality.’ In this journey, the artist boldly left the viewer’s share to find. He hopes that we can look for the world of reality together that he wanted to feel and discover. That is the true message the artist Kang Un wanted to deliver through Play: Pray.









[1] Gaston Bachelard, Water and Dreams, 2014, Moonye Books, p. 8


[2] In this article, specific characteristics or material elements of the handmade paper were not discussed because handmade paper was not considered as only material that Kang Un used to express the world of reality.

[3] Gaston Bachelard, Water and Dreams, 2014, Ehaksa, p. 348