Blackscapes

What hasn’t been ranted about the end of landscape art:

“There is no more landscape,” as Fernand Léger put it as early as 1925. Following the end of classic modernism, there were all sorts of things, such as abstract and informel, pop and op art, as well as our dear postmodern and deconstructionist processes, but no genuine debate about the classic representational topos of the landscape. Also the strong hype about figurative painting, in defiance of all concreteness, does not exactly confirm the good old veduta.

Under these circumstances, it is all the more exciting when an artist of today dares to challenge anew the supposedly obsolete art genre—especially when she is born in Korea and is painting in the traditional European oil-on-canvas technique. Therefore, it is with good cause that Mi-Kyung Lee, who was born in Chung Ju in 1967 and studied at the academies in Seoul and Münster, calls her exhibition in the showroom of the Förderverein Aktuelle Kunst (Friends of Current Art Association) in Münster “Far, far away”. Her landscape paintings, though displaying various motives, still have one thing in common: they all are monochrome works in black and white, painted in generous albeit precisely calculated brush strokes, ever fluctuating on the fine line between concreteness and abstraction. Because the paintings do not claim that there are landscapes to be seen, at least not by crude pictorial illustration.

The picture emerges within the beholder—this truism from the perception theory is illustrated by Lee’s paintings as striking as nonchalant, because the association of the black, grey and white traces with floorage, groves and the vastness of water and heaven is suggested to the experienced eye by the open painting technique in the most subtle way. A colour line becomes a horizon and a fine grey glaze becomes a cloud formation—in the confrontation with the black paint matter, an imaginative space opens up. Lee’s acumen lies in this extremely reduced imagery: abdication of obtrusively explicit symbolism, emphasis on the material medium and restriction of the colouring to two basic qualities. This often appears serene and quiet, at times dramatic, mostly even compellingly meditative—still these works are not phantasmagorical image bubbles, but well-considered orchestrations, which with their structural composition and their strong visual settings reveal distinct aesthetics.

By Mi-Kyung Lee exhausting the pictorial-intrinsic potential—the paintings rather emerge as accidental results of matter, not from the observation à la William Turner—they remain ultimately abstract, quasi timeless black-filtrated diffusions of the natural. Given Mi-Kyung Lee’s origin, one is automatically reminded of Asian ink drawings in a decidedly kalligraphic ductus. That the artist has emancipated herself fully from them is evident in her latest exhibition. Still one would like to know: what would Hokusai have said about it?

Christoph Zitzlaff