Since living in Seoul, I have developed my interest in the concept of the ‘in-between’. It is the entry space where the most fascinating things happen, and I hope my work recalls this ‘in-between’ space.
Gallery JJ has prepared, at its new location in Gangnam, the first special exhibition of a British artist, Simon Morley. He studied fine art and modern history in the UK, and since his residency at GCC (Gyeong-gi Creation Center) in 2010, he has been teaching at Dankook University while developing his own creative activities. His paintings are mostly monochromatic, as if text has smeared into the surface, which contains an ambiguous, uncertain and blurred imagery. He introduces, through this work, the blurred boundaries between looking and reading, text and image, Eastern and Western, past and present, and yin and yang. With the topic of ‘Korea’ this exhibition will include examples of his main body of work, ‘book painting’, along with new works of the pavilion series and a video installation.
'사이'의 회화_in between
Often considered a conceptual artist, the more you look at Morley’s painting, the more you discover and contemplate. The keynote of his work is text. Word is Image, says Morley. He focuses on the fact that text not only has a meaning but also a form. Though a simple and calm tone of monochrome, images or texts are gradually revealed as you approach. Their relationship is not parallel but of oxymoronic where the looking and the reading of viewers are cross-referenced causing confusion. This is the intention of the artist. His monochrome work becomes more sensible while the process of recognition of standardized code and information on the surface of his work is induced. Moreover, his text painted in relief casts a shadow where a tactile response is also induced.
His painting thus blends the conceptual character in the rational realm of text with the fantastical realm of the image. He remains objective and factual by retaining the original type face and layout when using sources. Thus painting itself becomes the principal agent to infer how text implies representation and comprehension.
Morley’s interest in blending cultures and converting media can be seen in most of his work. For instance, his “book painting” is a conversion of the medium “book” into painting, and recently he has tried various media, such as video, and converting a signboard into a painting.
The theme of this exhibition is “Korea”. This new land Morley found after leaving the UK gave inspiration to someone who is very interested in culture and history. His themes range from old tradition to the present, but initially, he created the series “Korean White” as part of his book painting series. (Books are inseparable to an art historian, which Morley also is - he has authored several books.) For sources, he selected book covers from the book collection of Martin Uden, former British ambassador to Korea, and painted them on canvas. Covers of books written by westerners in the late 19c and early 20c were converted into paintings, coupled with various white colors, the color associated with Korea.
Furthermore, he fell in love with the poetic beauty of the pavilions and palaces he found from reading a book about the Joseon dynasty artist Kyumje Cheong Seon, which inspired him to create a “Pavilion”. His interest in language showed itself again. Names of pavilions - Dok Rak Jung(獨樂亭), Eng Chung Gak, (凝淸閣) and Pal Young Roo (八詠樓) – that are Chinese characters with semantic elements were translated into the English Alphabet, once again suggesting a gap between visuality and language. Symbols, by meaning, indicate paintings or the pavilion in memory, but it is an in between reality of cultural, linguistic, time and space gaps. Only myriad traces remain in order to continuously become other meanings. A symbol by its nature cannot be identical to what it actually represents, or in other words, it is not a fundamental representation of the existential object, a truth especially emphasized by the postmodern philosopher, Jacques Derrida.
There exist things uncatchable by visuality and language which lie in between where countless differences are created, and these things touch us in mysterious and noble forms. The pavilions Morley chose do not exist in the present day. Memories for the once-existed-but-gone are here only to be reconstructed. Their presence in a different language, form and color made them familiar but now they are strange.
A signboard in the Seoul History Museum dividing South and North Korea’s border during the 1945 armistice, is painted with blurred depth, giving birth to a void between time and space, and the painting of Mt. Geumgang depicts the ghostly image of a train that crossed Korea - something that is impossible today. The artist currently lives in Munsan, close to the DMZ. His interest in the division on the Korean peninsula clearly represents his clear awareness of the historical facts behind the world he lives in.
In front of the desk sitting in a corner of his studio, Cheong Seon’s painting of the Geumgang Mountains and a poster of Rothko hang side by side. With admiration for Cheong Seon and Kim jung-hee, pen-name, chusa, Morley is fascinated by the one stroke painting technique used in Korea’s traditional paintings and the pursuit of completeness while being spontaneous. Now Morley’s “in-between” seems to lie somewhere between the West’s rational world and the East’s spiritual world of “emptiness”.
Juyeon Kang | Director