Kim Chong Hak’s first exhibition with Perrotin pays homage to the artist’s extensive career, showcasing around 20 of his works, which include recent acrylic paintings, his representative works from the 1980s, and drawings never before displayed. Widely known as the “Painter of Seorak”, Kim evokes Mount Seorak—the third-highest mountain in Korea, situated in the east of the country— on his canvases with motifs from nature, such as flowers, insects, and weeds.
At the age of 82, Kim maintains a gestural way of making his art with coarse, rapid brushstrokes and with his hands, slathering paint on the canvas. Kim’s paintings introduce a distinct world where nature is rearranged according to the artist’s experience and sensations, bypassing temporal limits and cycles of life and death. His landscapes relinquish perspective and are intensely two-dimensional. Vines and weeds tangle luminously across the canvas; flowers bloom frontal-facing in various bright shades; dragonflies and butterflies fill the remaining gaps, resulting in dense compositions eliciting visceral awe.
In developing his unique style, Kim has his artistic development traced across three main periods. From 1960 to 1978, he explored and rejected Western modernism; from 1979 to 1986, he started combining nature with traditional Korean aesthetics. It was in 1987 and onwards, when Kim settled permanently in Mount Seorak, that he entered his period of maturity, embracing Mother Nature’s mountains, rivers, and oceans to construct his art.
By incorporating Kim’s demonstrative works and drawings, the exhibition illustrates the evolution of his artistic discourse founded on revisiting the same subject matters. In the largest painting of the show, which is eight meters wide, Kim overtly references Weeds and River, two of his paintings from 1987 that also study the green and shrubby landscape now spanning the wall of the gallery. Alongside Kim’s monumental canvases, a series of drawings detail the beginnings of Kim’s practice for the first time. After his walks in Mount Seorak, Kim sketches, in pencil or ink, the impressions nature has made on him, morphing them into shapes, colors, and structures befitting his expressionist conception.
Kim considers his art “new figurative painting based on abstract painting”, building on his canvases an indiscriminate framework reflective of his devotion to even the tiniest of wonders. Mount Seorak is for Kim what Mont Sainte-Victoire is for Cézanne and Tahiti for Gauguin, and viewers grasp the sense of reverence Kim has for nature upon entering the gallery. There is a certain primitive exuberance in Kim’s largerthan-life vegetation that indicates renewal and rejuvenation, evoking the vigorous spirit of the artist and his joyous celebration of nature in all of its forms.
Kim Chong Hak (b. 1939, Shinuijoo, North Korea) is an eminent figure in contemporary Korean art. He has exhibited at Musee Guimet, Paris; Tomio Koyama Gallery, Tokyo; and National Museum of Contemporary Art, Gwacheon, among other leading institutions in Korea. His works are in several important collections, including Leeum Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul; National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul; Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul; and Busan Museum of Art, Busan, Korea.