<Modernistic Modification of 近取諸身>

-Blank Ink Painting of JANG Jaerok

Lee Jinmyung, Curator

When one indicates the symptoms of the present age, they usually associate them with ‘late capitalism,’ and the situation to divide capitalism seems like it has reached its extreme. The situations inherent in the current form of capitalism are a globalism that collapses the borders among countries, management-labor disputes, a deepening gap between the rich and poor, environmental destruction, selfishness intensified by individualism, and so on. The cause of this gloomy present age coincides exactly with the address that Jack Welch, the CEO of General Motors, gave under the title ‘Shareholder’s Value’ in 1981. It was never expected that management would have the humanism to properly consider the general value of stockholders, laborers, and other business-related workers. However, the management policy of this business genius became the zeitgeist of US capitalism, and later the famous new liberalism spread widely into South America and Asia, as well as Europe.

‘Stockholder’s Value’ without humanistic consideration is the start of all disquietudes. Management policies only for stockholders focus on giving more benefits and interests to stockholders who invest their capital in companies. Due to such policies, laborers’ wages come to be reduced and their welfare lags behind other areas. Along with this, research funds for business decrease, so scientists and technicians are more poorly treated day by day. However, stockholders still receive benefits thanks to such policies. And as the investment for social overhead capital diminishes, technology that will be responsible to the future does not move forward. Thus, small and middle companies end up losing their hope for the future. As a result, in capitalist countries, while the middle class weakens and the labor class is suppressed with pessimism, the top class reinvests their expanding properties into other financial institutions. As time passes, the gap between the rich and poor deepens. Wealth is never a value that drips from the top to the bottom. Someone must make it flow in the middle. Karl Max declared that a stock company is the previous step toward entering socialism. Looking at the current situation, which might prove Karl Max’s declaration for the future of capitalism to be correct, I’m embarrassed, not knowing what to do.

JANG Jaerok is very interested in beauty, or more precisely, in whether beauty is ubiquitous or poorly distributed. In the viewpoint of the polarization and imbalance of wealth in this present age, JANG Jaerok seems to accept the maldistribution of beauty as a fixed fact. Luxury places in the Broadway and Time Square areas of New York, and classic cars such as Bentley, Mercedes Benz, and Lamborghini, cannot reveal their beauty without the integration, concentration, and maldistribution of capital. As expected, the world is a dialectical system of imbalance, that is, a system that is run with the excess and insufficiency of energy. And it is surely a discriminative, dualistic world in which a center and its margins are divided. Classic western cars appear in the center of JANG Jaerok’ painting. However, do not misunderstand that his pieces praise the superficial beauty of their smooth curves. He clearly understands the history of accumulated metaphors inherent in the Indian-ink stick used in Korean painting. The ink stick, a good material to express spiritual beauty, has a long history that goes way back to the end of the Later Han Dynasty of China. In order for beauty to be expressed, or for the thought of a literary man to be arranged, numerous plants should be burn into ash, and then oil. JANG Jaerok first thinks about the metaphor of sacrifice that an Indian-ink stick has. Similarly, you can remember that the barky hands of country women were needed for a monk in the Middle Ages to hold a glass of wine with his white hand. We must not forget that the esthetic nature of an excess state in the white skin of a woman can exist only thanks to the rough hands of farmers who have gone through enormous wanting and insufficiency. This is because nothing is free from the interaction principle of entropy. That is the rule of the world. We simply forget this rule too easily. Let’s deeply examine the surface of JANG Jaerok’s paintings so as to escape the swamp of oblivion. What do you feel while viewing these majestic classic western cars? If someone says, “Accumulated capital is an important aspect in determining even the nature of beauty,” you can think that he has no intention to harmonize with the world.

Hegel insisted that ‘The mind of a human only keeps developing’ but I believe that his insistence does not make sense. On the contrary, Chu His, a Confuscianist in the Song Dynasty of China, explained the operation of the world―that is, 道, which means the principle of the universe―as 一陰一陽之謂道, which is the principle of circulation that as the movement of the universe becomes negative (yin) one time, and then becomes positive (yang) the next, these rises and declines of yin and yang are infinitely repeated. This can be also stated with 日月進退, which means the advance and retreat of the sun and the moon, or 陰陽屈伸, which means the extension and contraction of yin and yang. Here, yin is material civilization, and yang is spiritual civilization. Throughout the history of civilizations, we can confirm that when spiritual civilization developed, the material civilization declined, and when the material civilization prospered, the spiritual civilization sank. You may sense that our current civilization has developed only materials but degenerated spirit. When the disruption of a material civilization reaches its extreme, I feel the prediction of Karl Max will be realized.

For this exhibition, JANG Jaerok highlighted the center of material. He repeatedly said to me, “I want to read this era.” Confucius emphasized the attitude of 近取諸身, which means that one understands the universe through the things near one’s body. Observing the end of the desires of his close friends, or a concrete embodiment of their desires, JANG Jaerok would say, “It seems like their lives are not fun.” Beauty is clearly not maldistributed but ubiquitous. Realization or impression felt in a mind cannot be intruded by earthly prices or social positions because they transcend materials. Beauty that ubiquitously exists is spiritual beauty.

The canvases onto which JANG Jaerok painted in Indian-ink with the attitude of 近取諸身 connote death, imbalance, sacrifice, and the impossibility of harmony, which are overshadowed in the operation of the Western-centered world and its brilliance. The only way to overcome these gloomy landscapes is to think about the deep meaning of 平和. The word 平和 itself shows its own warm and humble meaning in that people weigh (平) rice (禾) with a scale, divide it, and then eat (口) it. JANG Jaerok currently creates homogeneous paintings overall, and is planning a project to deepen his work. He will deal with people. What a complex meaning the word people has! A person is a social animal but feels lonely among others. The power of revolution is produced from people, but people again fall into the swamp of loneliness. The disquieting beauty of our material civilization and the loneliness of people are now the sun at noon, and we cannot catch the meaning of the situations spread in front of us due to the dazzling sun. However, at least, I hope that the eyes of JANG Jaerok are not swayed by the dazzling light. As I mentioned above, artists must be beings who grasp the crossing of two trends, yin and yang. To reach the step in which JANG Jaerok understands the crossing of the two trends, I hope that he looks ahead into the future.