Materiality of Korean Paper and its Formativity - On Works of Ham Sup -


Oh, Kwang-Su (Art Critic, Director of Hansol Museum)

The artworks of Ham Sup, using Korean paper as the major material, are more famous in other countries than in Korea. They are so, partially because he is more active overseas than in Korea, but more importantly, they are more widely accepted outside Korea because he has created his own area of painting which has contributed to the expansion of boundary of painting.
In every art fairs, his works have been in the limelight, and to my opinion his works have been well-received by the public not because of use of the unique material or method of creation, but because his works are representing the spirit of Koreans deeply rooted in its culture.
In other words, Ham Sup has inquired into the national sentiment of the Koreans with his works, which materialising the national identity via modern methods.

Application of Korean paper as a formative method in visual arts goes back to 1980¡¯s. Some contemporary artists found the utility of Korean paper in their works on a personal level or in their collective pursuit of an alternative material.
Initially, work-on-paper, which utilised Korean paper as a base material or support, became popular among these artists. But on the other hand, there were experiments of artists pursuing formative possibility of Korean paper and its properties. With these experiments, many artists were more interested in use of Korean paper in their creation.
With the increased interest in materiality of Korean paper, some employed the process of paper mulberry becoming Korean paper into their work, while others endeavored formative creation of the sentiment, which Korean paper embodied, in the traditional livelihood. Here, Ham Sup¡¯s works could be categorised into the latter.

One can safely assume that for Koreans, the space of living – at least the space of traditional living – is surrounded by Korean paper.
Koreans used to be born, to live and to die in a room surrounded by Korean paper. Accordingly, Korean paper is the material which Koreans are most accustomed to in their live. One may say that it is not a mere material as a medium, but as something embedded in their life as a representation of their sentiment.
It is to trace the secret time where the breath, tears, and sweat of Koreans have been soaked into. That¡¯s why it can never be described fully by defining it as a process of representation using simple material. There is no arguing that it is embodiment of sentiment, not a simple art project.

What one can find in his works is coexistance of constant process of generation and sadness of endless disappearance. There, the past and present are intertwined, and push away and drag in each other over and over. In this tremendous chaos, his works reveal themselves as an on-going vital phenomenon. The reason why his works feel so familiar is that they deliver the emotion as vital phenomenon.
It must be so, because the fragmented image glimmering in our memory forgotten a long time ago. It is like when one opens old forgotten locker, or old wooden needle case used by our mothers. What rushes to us is this familiar yearning, waving at us, which cannot be reached as it has faded away to the flow of time. His works lead us to the other side of infinite time filled with memories: A village feast; relaxation of encountering where people¡¯s chattering and greetings intersect with each other; a moment full of abundance of a harvest day in autumn; inaccessible smell coming from each page of an old book; and totem poles standing at the entrance of a village, and a weight of time accumulated on top of the totem poles.

In his works, Korean paper is not a mere base material. It is the structure created by harmonisation of traces of actions applied on the basis: Paper mulberry barks: fabric: collage of thread; and the five colours placed on the combination.
It is the field of autopoietic phenomenon where barks and foreign materials are intertwined one another.
Yet, they are not complete.
They aim at completion, but at the same time, they remain at undecided presence. They eager to remain at the moment of creation then to be complete. They hope to exist by themselves, or as formativity as a whole, while letters, symbols and free weaving of our ancestors are illuminating one another.
His works look alive, because they are originated from their manifestation as existence.

Oh Kwang Su
(Art Critic, Director of Hansol Museum)