Landscapes of the Past and the Present Drawn with Energy
By Kim Jung-rak (Professor of Department of Culture and Liberal Art, Korea National Open University)
“起初，能量充滿大地（Im Anfang war die Kraft）。”
然而，單單以情感定義張秦的創作起源是不足夠的（此情感概念雷同於感官）。藝術家在此延用了「理解」（德文為verstand）的觀念，此為由十八世紀德國觀念論哲學家康德理念所延伸的人智學，主張人對於知識的獲取係依靠內化的、先天的判斷，而非理性認知。此種先天的判斷是純粹而直接的（德文為ding an sich，中文為「物自身」），換言之就是啟蒙的概念。啟蒙位於感知階級的頂端，其他層級包含了理性、情感等。在這樣的背景之下，張秦的“動人”展在知識論的層面詮釋了藝術家與客體之間、甚至是作品與觀者之間的關係。
In the Beginning was the Energy (Im Anfang war die Kraft).
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust -
Like the poems by poets of Tang-Song Dynasties who wrote their poems while having a drink in West Lake Hangzhou in the moonlight, Jang Jin’s paintings are a collection of poetic sentiment.
Jang Jin’s paintings are poetic; a little bit lyric, but overall they are epic. This style of painting does not come from traditional ways and forms of Dongyangwha or Eastern painting. Jang Jin takes a unique approach to wash drawing on his own; he incorporates wash drawing techniques into printed paintings called monotypes. It looks like brush painting but he actually drew/painted with hand or relied on a coincidence to happen to complete his works. As a result, the touch is so free and unconstrained, which is suited to express vitality like flowing water. His painting techniques resemble the destructive form of modern Western art; he adopted the vandalistic attitude in art in the early 20th century, which lasted till the era of Abstract Expressionism. But that does not mean his canvas is overwhelmed by the aesthetics of violence in Western culture. His interest and sentiment is quite similar to of poets in the past. Nevertheless, he does not seek compromise or try to draw a conclusion ambiguously like in the theory of Eastern Way-Western Means.
Jang Jin’s style is classified as Eastern painting and this is not because of what he majored in college. Nor is it because of the materials he uses such as an ink-stick, crushed stone powders that are often used in the paintings of Far East. Moreover, it is not because of the fact that he made a modern version of spirit resonance or vitality, one of the key elements that define a painting in the Record of the Classification of Old Painter, a book written by Xie He, a writer and art historian in 5th century China. In fact, the way he sees and expresses the world challenges what the old philosophy of Eastern traditional painting presented as an ideal value and yet was never achieved, which makes him an Eastern painter. Jang explores the meaning of painting of this particular style in a most realistic way and at the same time maintains the philosophical depth of the concept.
A Path to Perception
At time, rational thought tend to despise emotion. Great sources of art subjects discovered through emotion are often undervalued and underused when an artist has a drift in his own thought and logics. For numerous contemporary artists, especially those who try to reconfigure the relationship between the world and objects based on rational thought, emotion is nothing more than a spice to the aesthetic recipe of an artwork. Yet, emotion is a pure and genuine element in Jang Jin’s works. The title of his individual exhibition held at Kumho Art Museum in 2009 was “Touching.” The artist encounters things and objects based on emotion, not based on rationality that tends to reorganize thoughts from the residue of senses.
However, it is impossible to explain the genesis of his works by the notion of emotion alone (here, emotion means similar to sensation). The author therefore employs the concept of anthroposophy that transcends the limitations of German Idealism of the 18th century; it is called, “understanding (verstand in German),” which developed out of the work of Immanuel Kant. Understanding is acquired through the development of native intelligence without the manipulation of rational thought, which is pure and direct (ding an sich in German, thing in itself in English). This in other words is enlightenment, which lies at the top of the perception structure composed of rationality, emotion and so forth. Against this backdrop, Jang Jin’s exhibition “Touching” gives an interpretation of the relationship between the artist and the object as well as between the artwork and the viewers on the horizon of understanding.
In the process of perception, which is based on understanding, Jang emphasizes the areas of senses and creates a figurative structure that can accommodate the senses of vision and touch. These senses come before taking the process of thinking – perception, memory and logical thinking – and the artist delivers such native senses to the viewers rather than intervening in the process in order to help them implement the process of their own accord. Of course there are other artists who create art from a perspective similar to Jang’s but what is special about him is that he tries to offer the viewers with as large shares to think as possible.
Landscapes Drawn with Energy
Jang Jin’s paintings bring up the image of landscapes as they reproduce landscapes that exist in his memory and life, which he aspires to express on the canvas. But the landscape he draws is not realistic as it is not drawn from nature. It does not have specific indications. The landscape as an object in his work is not sketched as an outline; the perspective has changed since the era of Paul Cezanne. Moreover, his Eastern painting style in a contemporary abstract quality is far from drawing a landscape of mental images. Created by using his body as the most essential and native medium of painting, his works are the product of painting in a highly abstract and yet realistic way. Decoding the very nature of landscapes conveyed through energy is at the core of his works.
Jang Jin picks an object to draw in a most direct way in the spaces he belongs to. Not just does he sketch it based on visual information he obtains, but he tries to feel it with his whole body. Perhaps that is why he tends to pay little attention to a figurative way of expressing it in a concrete and realistic fashion. As explained with the notion of understanding (verstand in German), the artist does not just observe the object with his eyes; he feels the sensation with his whole body that the landscape provides to him. Just like the lyrics of the song “Dancing in the Moonlight,” the sensitive artist dances with the landscape and becomes a sponge of emotion. He senses with his tentacles the subtle melody that the environment surrounding him plays out – and this later develops into his genres of landscape and history. At the studio, his tentacles (or his body) release an array of forms and shapes of energy into his works. In a way, his works of art resembles the works of abstract expressionists, such as Jackson Pollock; Pollock concentrates on the action of dripping paint onto a canvas to express his impulses liberated from unconsciousness. The artistic value, which is the traces of the action, largely depends on some sort of a ritual form of American Indians or the technique of automatism art after the Dada Movement. The root of the impromptu, spontaneous and direct attitude of abstract expressionism can be found in ancient Zen Buddhism. Pollock fascinated, by such a notion, created action painting of his own. A similar act of painting is employed by Jang Jin. Yet while Pollock connects his action with his impulses, Jang finds the sources of his action in energy from nature and his painting as an act is transzendental rather than impulsive.
From Landscape to History
His focus seems to have changed from the environment of the Mother Nature to a time frame; recently, Jang Jin has been drawing the history of Incheon, the city where he resides. Incheon, whenever dropping by, gives a particular impression to the author. Native-born Incheon citizens often say that “there is no such person as a native-born in Incheon.” A small fishing village called Jemulpo became the center of the Open-Port area in Incheon in the late 19th century. After that, Incheon was transformed into a modern city under the Japanese colonial rule and served as a historic site for the successful Incheon Landing Operation during the Korean War. Incheon is a city where past history remains in the buildings of the colonial period and today’s new development and strong demands for consumption exist simultaneously. And Jang Jin, who is originally from Incheon, is drawing the city’s history in his studio at the heart of the old part of the city. How he reads and interprets history is closely in line with how he sees landscapes; focusing on the outline of history, which only exists in the traces it has left. Instead of organizing history in an archive or index, the artist transforms his feelings about history into a form of energy on a canvas.
Jang Jin’s paintings are modern and contemporary; first of all, the emotions and the state of complete self-effacement expressed in those paintings do not at least fall into cheap sentimentalism, and second, his approach is to reveal the long-hidden emotional wounds of himself as well as the viewers of his works. Being contemporary in artworks means a creation of art through consistent synchronization with the past, which is explicitly expressed in Jang Jin’s works. The evidence of synchronization is easily found in his way of expressing history in the traces of energy, which exist in the form of painting, not in a text.