June Mostra 2019 / Meet the artists… Jonathan Kim

As we approach the June Mostra, our third exhibition of this academic year, we will be publishing a series of blogs taking a closer look at the individual practices of our seven resident artists. The fifth interview is from Jonathan Kim our Helpmann Academy Resident.


Jonathan & The White series in studio 7

Photo: Jonathan Kim

Hello Jonathan, so what are you working on at the moment?

I’m making these drawings which I call paintings because after drawing I do more processing with ink, water and cotton wool. It’s like expanded painting. I’m making these for the exhibition at the Romanian Academy and I’ll also make sculptures using the materials in the Academy. They have a store room where they have wood stocks which I’m making into a sculpture.

I see your equipment – the set square and the ruler. Have you always used these?

My previous work was not geometrical, it was inspired by the Korean patchwork tradition (Jogakbo) in which there are not a lot of white geometrical shapes. People in Korea were poor in the past and didn’t have enough money to buy textiles so they would make textiles using rags, from which they would create blankets, clothes or hangings. My early works used a Korean patchwork combination of colour.

In my recent drawings I’ve been inspired by Roman design, monuments and architecture. I then add geometrical shapes into my compositions. The white may be inspired by Roman white marble: I really like the colour and the texture. But it may not only be from there, it’s my intuitive response to Rome, although its roots may be from elsewhere.

My work is rooted in a phenomenology of perception. Artists respond to their environment without thinking, through the body: an intuitive response to the buildings. That’s my theory. Look at these drawings for example: where is the positive space and where is the negative space?

Yes…I’m not sure.

Exactly. Because sometimes the colour is a positive space and white is a negative space, in theory. However, some people see the white as the form of an object and colour as negative background. There is no final answer. I want to ask people what they think of my drawing and if they feel something that’s an answer.

My practice is based on post-minimalist concepts, and before undertaking the residency in Rome I was particularly focused on the Korean painting style Dansaekhwa and the Japanese sculptural concept Mono-ha. The Korean painting style has texture, it’s called Dansaekhwa. In Mono-ha you put two or three materials together to create a relationship within the space.

The White series, 2019, crayon, oil pastel and ink on paper, 21x28.4cm (each)

The White series, 2019, crayon, oil pastel and ink on paper, 21×28.4cm (each)

Is that how you reconcile your two very different practices of sculpture and painting?

Yes, but they are two concepts that derive from a philosophy which Korean artist Lee Ufan developed called ‘Encounter theory’. Lee now works in France, he founded the Mono-ha movement in the 1970s in Japan and led the Dansaekhwa movement in the 1980s in Korea.

So, what is Encounter Theory?

For example, in my sculpture, you find stone and steel together: they are very different materials. The artist doesn’t make anything: you put something in the space and together they create a relationship through the interaction between each other. In Mono-ha, the relationship is an art work. I call this spatiality.

I believe this is relevant to an Asian theory, connected to the theory of Yin and Yang where material can stand for anything, so for example steel is cold and wood is warm. This works for colour too with the Five Elements Theory: white stands for metal, black is for water, red is for fire, blue is wood and Yellow is soil. Korean people always think about materials as embodying another kind of other being. I put together different materials to create relationships between them. I want to create spatial relationships amongst materials in a phenomenological way.

I apply these theories in my work. So here you have steel with paper: steel is cold and paper is really warm, creating a balance. In the West, perhaps plus and minus together don’t compensate for each other, whereas in Asia plus and minus together create a balance. And here, stone is cold and steel is a little colder: minus and more minus can create a balance too. They balance each other out and create a harmony with the environment.

Wood and Earthen I, 2019, found branch and broken pot, 30x30x80cm

Wood and Earthen I, 2019, found branch and broken pot, 30x30x80cm

How are you developing your practice in Rome?

My painting and sculpture is based on Dansaekhwa and Mono-ha, and Encounter Theory. I find that Mono-ha and Dansaekhwa have limitations in terms of materials and as concepts because both movements have very traditional roots. I want to expand this type of theory with my work and since I’m in Rome I’ve been looking at Arte Povera because it has a broader concept of materials. My sculptures and paintings have developed within an Arte Povera framework. Some materials contain the memory and history of the previous user. With Mono-ha and Dansaekhwa, the materials used for art do not have any memory or history from the former user: they are just raw materials. Whereas with Arte Povera, the materials are from everyday life and so everything you see in my sculptures here is from the surrounding environment of the BSR.

Tin & Brick II, 2019, found tuna tins in the hole of a brick wall

Tin & Brick II, 2019, found tuna tins in the hole of a brick wall

Jonathan’s work will be exhibited alongside the seven other resident artists in the June Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 14 June 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 22 June 2019, closed Sundays.

Interview by Martina Caruso (Assistant Director for Art, Architecture and the Creative Industries). Photos courtesy of the artist.