Still life of Apple, Orange, Pomegranate and Lemon
Kim Youngna (Professor, Seoul National University)
I first met Park, Meyeon, when I was on the faculty of the Fine Arts Department of Duksung Women’s University. She always sat in the first row in my History of Western Art class. After graduation, she studied at the Pratt Institute in the U.S. Returning from there; she came back to Duksung Women’s University as a professor. I admire her unparalleled generosity, diligence and passion for art.
Starting from Park’s solo exhibition in Deokwon Gallery in 1997, held upon returning her from the U.S., to her recent works in Wooduk Gallery, we can trace certain distinctive features in her work. The first feature is that of her interest in ‘circles’. While the figurative shapes such as hats, shoes or horses in the earlier works tend to be simplified as circles, Park is now more inclined to use archetypical, geometric shapes or small dots in her recent works. The circles painted in different shapes and scales are either in themselves objects or become a dotted background. The realistically-depicted objects and pure geometric circle-shapes contrast and contradict each other. Circles are imbued with individual characteristics whilst approaching one another or distancing themselves from each other. ‘Circles’ seem to be the archetype of shapes and become cosmic forms for Park.
Another distinctive feature is her interest in and the relationship between colors. Park’s works could be cited as experiments in colors. Park often chooses pure, bold yet delicate and intimate colors. Park loves the deep depth of oil color, and prefers multiple colored effects that layer one color after another rather than accentuating any certain color. This gives a somewhat mature, ripe effect.
For this exhibition, Park offers still life paintings of fruit. Park frequents fruit and vegetable stalls and flower markets. Park chose fruit because they are readily available in everyday life, allowing her to actually feel the texture and smell their scent. Park’s favorite fruit are apples, oranges, lemons, pomegranate or apple mangoes, which retain their natural colors vividly.
In her paintings, some fruit has been peeled or dried out. The colors of the inside and outside of the peeled apple are contrasting. When it has ripened well and is fresh, the fruit tastes juicy and good, but when dried it is stale and dull. The fruit motif in these still life paintings signified physical indulgence in the Medieval period and was a symbol of vanitas (or memento mori) in 17th century Dutch paintings, meaning that anything beautiful and young will become extinct and die in time. How does Park view and understand fruit in her works? Perhaps they mean life or time to Park.
These fruit still lives lack perspective and shadow, which instead gives a sort of floating effect. What is more interesting is the dotted background. Those dots, as if the thin papers that are attached to windows create an intimate way of looking, block or yield the view to viewers. These abstract dots and realistic fruit together blur and agitate the boundaries between the abstract and the figurative, endowing the relationship between the background and object with obscurity and ambiguity.
Park Meyeon's work seems to still wander around the edge of the purity or autonomy of shape and color, which modernism regards as gold and gold. Even if you are considerate, you can't find the art discourse that has been talked about recently, and even if you are tied to the category of still life painting, which belongs to a branch of traditional painting, you can't help but think that neither the artist nor the viewer will dare to fight against each other. Strictly speaking, a doctor who does not aim for still life (pseudo) though it is still life. It is also ambiguous from a formal point of view. One foot is in figuration, the other in expressionism. However, we need to be careful about this simple categorization. This is because he does not stay only faithfully following the existing art language. Park Meyeon strangely penetrates the boundary between figurative and abstract, paying attention to the temporal and spatial layers of meaning of shapes and backgrounds through dislodged colors rather than the formativeness of her work.
In relation to the interpretation of the work, it is necessary to introduce two episodes. Once upon a time, the ‘skin color’ that we commonly used became a problem. In the first place, the conditions for naming colors were too arbitrary. As a result, Huanmuqi (who forgot the race of other skin color)shameless), flesh color disappeared from our list of color names. I don't know if it's a consideration for other peoples, an anthropological dimension, or an aesthetic dimension... … Another episode is found in an advertisement for a milk company. The advertisement copy, “Banana is white,” is that, but the salaryman who made this white banana milk gets a harsh rebuke from his boss. This is followed by an echoless monologue from a dejected salaryman, ‘The inside of the banana is white… … ’ That’s right, the inside of a banana is white. But this truth is inconvenient. Denying the ‘bananas are yellow’ that the art system disciplines and recommends is an act of deception against social consent. At the very least, it would disrupt the social order. Then, which one is true, 'flesh-colored' or 'bananas are white'? Miyeon Park's work slips into the secret of this equivalent.
“Things cannot be described. Things can only be written in writing,” proclaimed the poet and critic Roger Bordier. Yes, all things change over time. Therefore, description is impossible. To describe it, time must be stopped. Perhaps that is why still life is called ‘nature morte’ in French. Directly translated, it is ‘dead nature’, and if paraphrased further, it is ‘(time) stopped nature’. But what is dead is the language, not the object (nature). ‘Apples are red.’ But what color hides deep in the skin? Continuity in time? Even if you don't have other colored apples in mind, this is a sheer lie. Flesh, chestnut, orange, etc., are only marker colors. These are the aesthetic signs found in Park Meyeon's works.
What Scent Does the Artist’s Apple Have?
Kho Chung-Hwan, Art Critic
An apple is not a common object for me. It starts with Paul Cezanne’s apple. The apple begins for me through the most fundamental, primitive, and basic motives… When others discuss dots, lines, and sides as pixels (as formal elements of painting or monads of painting), I answer with scents (artist’s notes).
Along her journey, the artist Park Me Youn drew flowers and apples. She, of course, has also painted pop art-like materials as an interlude. However, it is difficult to conclude that her paintings lean towards a materialist tendency. It is also difficult to define her painting as a reproductive tendency that pursues a sensuous resemblance of an object. To the artist, what is drawn is not important. In the eyes of the artist, the material is merely a good excuse for drawing. Nothing more than a key to start painting. So, if the material is only an excuse for painting, then the main point will be to reveal what the artist is drawing and what meaning the material in the artist’s work can have.
Here, the artist invokes Cézanne’s apple. Why Cézanne’s apple? As is well-known, Cézanne’s apple is regarded as the affair that opened a new myth in contemporary art. In order to understand Cézanne’s apple, an understanding of impressionist painting, which Cézanne used as a reflective object for his paintings, must be premised. As is widely recognized, the impressionists painted the surface of ever-changing objects. While denying the intrinsic color of the object, they acknowledged that color is in fact light, and painted light instead of color. They drew the color that retained the material of light as a trace (or by remembrance), and drew the colors that had a meaning only as proof of the reality of light. This is the reason why, when we look at impressionist paintings, they seem shimmery in terms of light, and behind the material of that light, objects seem distorted and disassembled. Light is, so to speak, the incarnation of distortion and deconstruction. Light cannot be controlled. A little hyperbolically, it is wrong when you see it here, and entirely different when you see it there.
Cézanne was dissatisfied with the pursuit of surface phenomena of the object, and therefore, was displeased with the pursuit of evanescent sensational phenomena. Therefore he came up with structure. He found the permanent, constant, so reliable, and possibly even ethical (compared to the sensuous attitude of the impressionists) excuse for painting in the structures of objects. This is how he pioneered structuralist painting. And as the viewer will be aware of, the structure of an object is reduced to a minimal form, and thus, the reductionist style which is the core thesis of the modernist paradigm was opened (and later, as is also known, modernist painting began to question the elements of forms of painting such as dots, lines, planes, and colors). Indeed, Cézanne said that all objects could be reduced to minimal geometric forms (and therefore structures) such as cylinders and cones, thereby leading to geometrical painting. If Cézanne had lived longer, he may have actually painted geometrical figures.
Now again, let us return to the artist. For the artist, an apple is not a common object, just as flowers are not common objects for Kim Chun Soo. In order for a common object to eventually bloom into a flower, the poet’s naming act (thus an event) must be mediated. By such naming behavior, a common object can finally be reproduced as a flower (and therefore a definite being). It hides the answer to how existence becomes possible. If so, what does the artist prepare in order to reproduce the general object as an apple (hence, to exist as a definite being, and to be reformed again)?
The artist Park Meyoun stated that the apple begins with herself because of the most fundamental, primitive, and basic motives. Here, the fundamental, primitive, and basic motives are connected with the permanent, constant structure of objects that Cézanne pursued, as well as the reductionism of the modernist paradigm in which objects (and representations of objects) are reduced to formal elements. So, the artist’s attitude as a modernist is read in that the world (and the representation of the world) is reduced to pictorial formal elements (for example, large and small sides, colors, and maybe aromas created by overlapping brush strokes).
And crucially, she said that the apple begins with herself. An apple that starts with one’s self? An apple from one’s self? One’s own apple? Cézanne’s apple was the same. The apple that started from Cézanne was an apple that did not exist before Cézanne; therefore, the new myth of contemporary art would not have opened if it was not Cézanne’s apple. And as is well-known, it was structure that led Cézanne to open that myth.
As such, what is the motivation for the artist? What is the fundamental, primitive, and basic motive that allowed the artist to obtain her own apple and this apple to be renovated thanks to the artist? And therefore, what made it possible for the artist to transform a general object into a single apple? The artist comes up with the answer of aroma. An aroma? Is the aroma here a sensuous reality, and ideological reality, or if neither of these, then a pictorial reality (therefore the formal element of painting)? Is it a material? Is it a mood? A sign? An emotion? What is clear is that the aroma is the most fundamental, primitive, and basic motive for the artist (when someone talks about the basics of painting such as dots, lines, and sides in a painting, she refers to aroma). Perhaps it is the reason for the artist’s drawing, and in terms of pursuit (and attitude), it is a prototype. And above all, it is color. Color? Aroma? An aroma expressed in colors? So maybe synesthesia? The color (and its subtle trembling) evokes the aroma on the canvas. When someone discusses a point, line, or an aspect in a work, I respond with aroma… A harmony comprised of colors and expressions that have become completely unified with the canvas. It does not matter what you draw (artist’s note).
In that way, I finally reached the color and aroma on the two axes (or possibly one axis) supporting the artist’s paintings. The artist discusses a harmony of colors and expressions that have completely merged with the canvas. These words of the artist remind one of Matisse, who is known as a magician of colors. For Matisse, painting was nothing but expression, and expression in painting was no different from color. Color was an expression (according to the artist’s words, a harmony of colors and expressions). If Cézanne was invoked to find the most fundamental, primitive, and basic motive in the painting, and therefore if that motive turns out to be nothing but aroma and color, then this time Matisse is called to prove that fact of finding.
So, the color reminds the artist of aroma, and therefore, that color is not different from aroma, and aroma is not different from color. As far as the relationship between color and aroma is concerned, we could say that there is an action of synesthesia.
What is the ultimate aspect in painting? Here, the artist cities the structuralist Cézanne, and it is nothing else but color. Here again, the artist calls the colorist Matisse as a witness to represent her. In this way, the artist’s paintings are parasitic in art history. Using art history as a host, the artist proposes a method to self-individuate and to reuse art history.
The problem is the aroma. As Cézanne drew the structure of an apple, the artist drew the aroma (therefore the color) of an apple. Even if we admit the synesthesia of color and aroma, it is not easy to actually detect the aroma from an apple, a different aroma from a different apple each time, and express (hence, reduce) the aroma in a different color. At least it is not unusual. We could see it as the result of the artist’s unique senses. Here, the aroma does not remain only as a material, natural, and therefore sensuous object. It could mean different moods and emotions, circadian rhythms and biorhythms. Maybe something that actually happened to the artist herself through the apple, the self-projected on the apple during the process of excessively cutting the apple, the event her body suffers at the moment of cutting the apple, and the thought that the apple suddenly aroused (the aroma), or the connection between the apple and the self, and therefore the ecology of the body as seen through the apple (and therefore perhaps the phenomenology of the body).
This is how a series of apple paintings structured (and reduced) with colors and aromas are called <Answer Me My Love> by the artist. This is the theme of her recent work. It is a spell to answer that it is what we love. That is the aroma that I love, to answer that the apple smells good. Matisse said he wanted to paint a picture like a comfortable armchair through color. Here, the artist replies that she wants to paint a picture with pleasant aroma (evoking a sense of pleasure) through color. The modernist paradigm is to see that color alone is already enough as a painting. In addition, the artist adds that color itself can already offer adequate sensational pleasure. Thus, the artist expands the modernist paradigm into sensuous paintings starting with the ascetic and structuralist Cézanne and returning with the sensualist and hedonist Matisse. Perhaps these are the two personalities that determine the artist’s identity.