Song Hyun Sook

South Korean, b. 1952

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Group show at a major institution
Mori Art Museum
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Bio

Hyun-Sook Song was born in 1952 and grew up in a mountain village in Korea. In 1972 she travelled to West Germany and soon after that she began to draw and to paint. In doing so she often gave voice to her nostalgic memories of her beloved motherland. Over several decades she created paintings with only a handful of motifs or themes: clay pots, silk ribbons draped around posts, or woven textiles hung on a thread.

Song developed both a very distinctive style and a technique that blends elements from the West and the East. She chose to use tempera, a type of paint made by mixing pigments with egg yolk. This technique was widely used in Western painting in the Middle Ages, notably because of the paint’s opaque character. Song, by contrast, uses tempera in a way that is almost transparent: the brushstrokes are economical but accurate. Each brushstroke represents a single movement and there is no room for doubt.

Her artistic outlook has been heavily influenced by Eastern philosophy and calligraphy but also by her love of nature, the body and her materials. She sees painting as a performative happening. She places the stretched canvas on the floor of her studio and balances above the painting on a simple wooden plank that is placed above it. In doing so she is in a state of utter concentration and meditation. The intensity of the painting enables her to work for only a few hours per day. This does not prevent her from going to the studio every day to maintain her dexterity.

Although her formal language may be limited, the variations appear endless. The works can be approached from both an abstract-meditative perspective and a figurative-symbolic viewpoint. The ‘wooden poles’ refer to a simple form of shelter, while the fabrics often suggest the age-old tradition of ramie weaving in the region of her birth. The paint that thins out as the line progresses symbolizes the finiteness of life and the dying out of hope.

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