The Active White: Paintings by Bae Sangsun Irisawa Yuka, Chief Curator, Inax Gallery, Tokyo
Whatever the motif, no matter where it might be, there are times when you just know whose work you are looking at. Sometimes one can't imagine any other artist creating the same distribution of color and blank space. It is hard to tell if this is simply a habit of the artist's hands, or whether it reveals a particular spatial technique. Such habits have been called both "origin" and "style." With this In mind, my attention was caught by Bae Sangsun, an artist who is truly capable of revealing form. Bae Sangsun is a young Korean artist who graduated from a Korean art university and then continued her study of art in Japan.
Bae's work is composed of large black fireball-like forms suspended in white space and distinguished by curving lines. On the canvas, we find the grand finale of forms. In our world flooded with illuminating colors, the black and white of her canvases serve as a neutralizing balm to correct our vision.
Her works are of deep black ink and charcoal drawings on canvas. Ink in her drawings has astrong silent presence. Sometimes, a lack of gradation in shades can be verbose, but Bae delicately manipulates such effect to express her powerful touch, as if she were staring into the canvas. The ridged lines of the ink-colored forms move with a deep gray gloss towards the inside, where they are tagged with pale shadow. Form and space appear to take on a life of their own and move under their own volition. While her work is technically called drawing, it feels more like a Byôga or Shoga painting. What sets Bae's work apart from Shoga, however, is that lines resembling the forms of written characters ultimately generate an iconographic tension. Even in the display design itself, we find Bae's artistic principles at work. There are single works on display, whilst others consist of combinations of two, three, or four pieces, carefully positioned like the rocks of a Zen garden. Although this degree of care can be seen as dedication to artistic method, I find it to be somewhat solemn and heavy. Her spatial exhibition style is still in the process of experimentation.
Did I find Bae's work attractive because of its distinctive form and Asian characteristics? To some extent, yes, but I was also taken by the life imbedded in the lines of Bae's work and the way Bae expresses her thoughts through the lines and through the canvas itself.
In a recent work, curving lines rise from a black form, or extend in all four directions. In its partner piece, we see the same form, but sense a passage of time. If you continue to look at the two works, it is as if you are watching abstract dancing characters, or the roots of some plant stretching upwards, defying the laws of nature, or floating diagonally to the side like the tentacles of a jellyfish. Both of these pieces leave one with a singular and strong impression, but after walking around the exhibition room and turning to look again, I saw the forms in reverse. The space between the two adjacent canvases became an entry point for me, and from this perspective, the black motif became a white one. What we once saw as black space become suddenly the "active white." This term, "active white," is my own terminology, but inspired by Bae Sangsun's works which reveal involuntarily the white space through her lines and through conceptions of expansion and contraction. It is precisely because of this strong capacity for subconscious expression that every work she creates reveals her presence.