<The Landscape of Another Landscape>

Park soonyoung, SEOUL MUSEUM OF ART

Art is divided into two forms, figurative art that faithfully describes reality, and abstract art that pursues an ideological world. However, while both forms seek different artistic views, they share the same foundation in that they both agonize over truth and pursue reality. That is, while figurative art is interested in how reality is represented, abstract art denies reality and is concerned with what reality is. Thus, this problem of art is the same as the problem inherent in reality itself.

Before modernism began in Western art, artists were primarily interested in figurative art. When viewing the trend of Western ideologies, as it is not too great an exaggeration to say that the West developed the history of idealism, it is interesting fact that Western art is fully focused on representation. Of course, this may be possible when considering that, within the aspect of idealism, art deals with materials. As the West entered into modernity, the problem of reality became magnified. Realist artists appeared and sought what really existed in reality, and furthermore, an abstract art emerged that expressed the forms or spirit of reality themselves. However, unlike realism, abstract art greatly relies on the ideas of Plato. Artists creating based on abstraction try to realize the denial of reality through art. On the other hand, realism has a firm faith in that it can reveal objective reality through figures, and is divided in the point that each realist tries to describe what they think is justifiable to describe. In any case, the problem between figurative and abstract art opened a stage of various discussions on reality through their sharp confrontation.   


In the East, before real landscape paintings appeared, ideological art was a main pursuit. However, this kind of division, in fact, originated from a Western view. In the art of the East, the problem between figurative and abstract art was not that important as Eastern artists were fully concerned with vividness; whether or not they used colors, which were regarded as the product of senses in the West; pursued the essence of a figure; and described real landscapes. The problem of reality was not about whether reality was real or fake, but whether it has a vivid energy or not. When seeing the materials used in painting, we can confirm the fact that Eastern artists pursued color even from Indian-ink, which the West thought of as only a black material, and that they emphasized a mind to create something while focusing on brilliance. Thus, we can say that while the problem of reality in the West started from the division of abstraction and figuration, the East has also had its own original problem of reality.

The flow of Korea’s modern art shows the same orbit as that of Western art, although the period of Korea’s modern art has been far shorter than that of the West. Korea accepted Western descriptive-based painting at the end of the 19th century, established monochromatic painting by accepting Western abstraction at the end of the 1950s, and cultivated hyperreal painting at the end of the 1970s. When seeing these trends from the viewpoint of the West, they can be divided into abstraction and figuration. However, this is not so when seeing them from an Eastern viewpoint. It is valid to state that changes in the mainstream appearing in Korea during such a short period contains the desire for new expressions caused by rapidly changing eras and a denial of previous generations. Thus, painting that pursues reality, including hyperreality, should not be thought of as an evaluation of the reality discussed in current art fields, in other words, a genre, but as the attitude of an artist to view reality. In other words, reality is not a representation or imitation of visible reality that everyone knows, but rather a concrete figure of reality that an artist recognizes subjectively and individually. The vivid urban landscapes of artist JANG Jaerok , who paints in Indian-ink, have great meaning in terms of such reality.

JANG Jaerok went to New York for an exhibition in 2009, and found images that grabbed his eye there. Although all of the objects in his works are black, which instantly let viewers know they are New Yorkers and urban items such as showy night streets and sports cars in roads and parking lots, their splendidness and brilliance were never damaged. Even though there are no colors, colors exist, and even though there is no brilliance, brilliance exists. This is due to his proper use of Indian-ink. Although the light and shade of Indian-ink are strongly contrastive, the described objects are never off their original forms. The dark loneliness of the night sky contrasted with urban neon signs does not lose its depth, and the dark metal body of a car contrasted with the flash of light does not lose its thickness. In this way, as the sun sets, night comes, and as dim light spreads, a wild sports car is revealed. This is because the strong contrast of light and shade appropriately spreads through the brush of this artist. In JANG Jaerok’s pieces, this spreading effect shows lyrical and sophisticated beauty. Thanks to these spreading effects, all elements of the fragmented urban night achieve balance as a wide landscape, and twigs of street-lined trees reflected on a car reveal their existence as they cast shadows on the car. Now, let’s look at JANG Jaerok’s subjective and individual reality that he tries to reveal through concrete figures such as New York and sports cars.

The art critic GO Chunghwan said about JANG Jaerok’s pieces that as cars or cities are typical icons in the era of capitalism, the artist obtains a modern and contemporaneous reality. When his contemporaries see his pieces, they are bound to immediately recall contemporary items. In addition, they will recall New York as a specific place, or car names as specific brands. This is what JANG Jaerok must bear as he realistically describes these icons. However, he bravely chose contemporary icons because what is important to him is the present age to which he now belongs. He prudently describes nature reflected on the surface of a fascinating car of his choosing, which is an urban icon, and creates new images combined with the images of nature and cars. We need to pay attention to how he expresses his images. He fully brings a strong contrast, which can be obtained through digital images, to his pieces. Due to this kind of process, GO Chunghwan explained that JANG Jaerok presents the possibility to connect an analog process and a digital one. And the art critic added that JANG Jaerok paints cars as a strong metaphor that presents the identity of today’s people. Today’s people are guaranteed lots of freedom in various fields such as political ideology, religion, nationality, and culture. They also enjoy freedom in such a wide range and can choose whatever they like. However, ironically, their autonomy has decreased. They have forgotten the meaning of self-cause that behaviors based on their will. They depend on things outside themselves and define themselves through outside things. The identity of today’s people is revealed through their desire that relies on material. The metaphor of the city that JANG Jaerok shows using the light and shade of Indian-ink includes even the lonely shadows that flow down to the different side of the city, maintaining their splendidness and powerfulness. The shadows of the people permeated into the night streets of New York, schematic poses of lascivious women in electronic sign-boards, and the dim glance of Madonna show how JANG Jaerok’ subjectively recognizes reality.

JANG Jaerokis a witness who quietly looks at the reality of a contemporary city tangled with desires and isolated people. However, he hasn’t ceased to be simply a witness, but has added meaning to material, which is inevitable for art, through Indian-ink. His Indian-ink, which was made from a burning tree, emits black color that has a depth of life. He hopes that the phenomena of a contemporary city created through desire will be reconciled through the light and shade of Indian-ink that has a depth of life. Humans have not only noble desires but also the desire to depend on materials. This is the reason JANG Jaerok describes a reality that he looks at only through light and shade. Here, viewers can confirm more clearly the reality of life that his paintings emit.