JÜRGEN KISTERS | THE DREAM OF PAINTING | or: The longing for the (lost) Whole

In the tradition of western art, at least since renaissance, painting is above all individual expression. It shouldn‘t be forgotten that the painting person is not only an unmistakable indidual - his motions and peculiarities since his birth are engraved by the culture where he has grown up. The conclusion is: There is no individual experience which is not mediated by culture. This undeceivable psychological fact ist getting interesting above all if a human being has grown up under the influence of two cultures. Like Seong-Hi Kang, who has come into the world in 1958 in Seoul and spent her first years in Korea. There she learned to walk, to speak, to see. There she learned, graved from early childhood, her naturals in treating things, people and herself.

At the age of thirteen, she moved to Germany where her mother worked since five years. Like all other children, Seong-Hi Kang had no choice. In the midths of her not completed growing she had to abandon the famliarity of her environment, her native country, her language and her everyday behaviour. She found herself in the german town of Viersen, where she evolved very slowly and doubtful a new familiarity with her environment.

„For a long time, I felt strange in Germany. I didn‘t know how to deal with the foreign language and the strange ways of dealing in the foreign culture.“ Today, 40 years later, she says: „I am at home where I can paint in peace.“ With it, she means her studio in the south of Cologne where she lives and works since 20 years and creates her delicate and mysterious appearing painting and sculpture. Artwork which contains all that, since milleniums, makes art so tempting, adorable, secretive and compellingly clear. 

Artwork, that without doubt is determined by the fact, that Seong-Hi Kang has grown up under two totally different cultural spheres of influence. Determined by the fact, that in one of these cultural spheres, Korea, the experiences of her childhood were marked but of which she was cut off towards the end of her childhood. And that in the other cultural sphere, Germany, Seong-Hi Kang refined not only - like all human beings in stage of their adolescence -  her freedom‘s sake and her identity, but also discovered art as her medium.

First, she was interested in design and concluded her Studies in Graphic Design, later she studied Free Painting at the Cologne University of Applied Sciences and was included in the master class of Professor Karl Marx.

Artistic Design was not entirely new to Seong-Hi Kang: Her father was sculptor in Korea. Nevertheless, for her art in the form of painting was the detection of a „new“ world, where it became possible to coalesce those very different effects on her life in different cultural spheres and bring them in a kind of unity. An open unity, because in her paintings figures and items always arise in a state of limbo, with lots of white and open space around them.

It is almost, as the figures flitted surreptitiously into her paintings. Often, it is not  known whether there are figures or shapes that are in process of formation or disappearance. Seong-Hi Kang's use of color is extremely restrained. White and gray tones determine the basic sound, where the painter often stresses red or blue or breathy yellow accents. Too much color, too much chroma threatens the sense of coherence which she searches, she says. And it is precisely this coherence which counts. It stands at the beginning and the end of the picturesque or drawing process. In principle, Seong-Hi Kang proceeds intrusively. The painting develops step by step while painting. The subjects appear suddenly and opaque as figures in a dream at night. Actually, her paintings remind us of our nightly dreams, as exactly like in a dream, different elements of daily experiences and memories - particularly memories of childhood - fall into another completely absurd and at the same time form an „unrelated context“. Desires and fears and all sorts of tricky situations that unveil - in both comic and dramatic motifs - the irresolvable ambivalence in our mental events. The unconscious always accompanies Seong-Hi Kangs painting process, and she relies entirely on the originality of this. Her paintings focus on humans and animals. Often creatures, that merge human beings and animals. These creatures seem extremely awkward and vulnerable, even when having monstrous traits. They are beings among siege and development, driven by external circumstances and the power of her own desire. Seong-Hi Kang masterfully combines in her art a childlike imagery with a sovereign composition of a free figuration, which includes  expressionist elements of drawing and painting as well as the all categories busting artistic spontaneity of an artistic outsider like Henri Michaux.

With each of her paintings Seong-Hi Kang tells stories, dreams, fairy tales. They all deal with the impalpable. From what is unspeakable. Stories that unfold in a realm beyond our everyday sense. And usher it in the middle of the fears, desires, insecurities and absurdities of our everyday life. We all tell stories of our life to (better) bear it. The stories that Seong-Hi Kang is telling, are all about the trick to keep our life in balance between those impulses, which are tugging us in all directions. 

Without psychological intention, Seong-Hi Kang creates very psychological paintings. Uncertainty, perhaps even disruption is shown. Longings and shortcomings, fear and courage collide openly. Not rarely, man appears as a prisoner. And then again as a confident creature that stands as a bird from the earth. To the severity of life, Seong-Hi Kang opposes the ease of painting. As if painting was always a „strategy“ to pass the hard facts of the world. For Seong-Hi Kang it is important to be attentive to the finest impulses of her own feelings.

That means to be mindful not only in the present, but to stay in touch with the experiences of childhood. Her paintings show that one can not lose his early childhood experiences. If a person has grown up in two different cultural spheres of influence, this experience inevitably determines the rest of his life. Maybe, in painting this experience can be expressed in the best way, as its individual and cultural dimension can be made as visible as the fundamental ineffability in the life of a wanderer between cultures. The desire that drives Seong-Hi Kang is both the search for the lost unity and the search for a new unit.

With her own individual visual language she makes visible at the same time that a life with the weight of two cultures inevitably leads beyond the limitations of the traditional concept of culture.

Jürgen Kisters, art critic | Cologne in february, 2012