Oan Kyu
Earlier than Writing
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Exhibition Catalog Statement
Exhibition Statement

Calligraphy – An Expression of Body and Mind
In East Asia calligraphy traditionally is considered a major art, equal to painting. A word can be presented in almost infinite varieties of structure, composition and style, to create a design whose abstract beauty can draw the mind away from the literal meaning of the word itself. Chinese words in grass style for instance are greatly simplified forms of the regular style and can be deciphered only by those who have practiced calligraphy for years. (RA.N./C.Y.)

Technically there is no mystery in Asian calligraphy. The tools for Asian calligraphy are very few – good ink, an inkstone, a good brush and good paper. However, to create a harmonious whole out of dots and lines in a well balanced space depends on a great artistic insight and highly technical skills. Calligraphy is spiritual and bodily at the same time.

Western artists were greatly influenced by Asian calligraphy and its characteristics to combine a spiritual and bodily effort to create a work of art. Above all the new dimension of space that is created between the internal and external, a meditative space, with which the artist can intuitively identify himself, greatly influenced the American and European artists of the 20th century. The American artists Basquiat, Cage, Motherwell, Newman, Pollock, Rothko and Twombly and the European artists Brancuse, Kandinsky, Klee, Malewitsch, Marc, Miro, Polke, Schwitter, to name just a few, who viewed their work primarily as a quest for self-discovery, applied calligraphy and gesture in their pictorial statements.

Amal Ghosh compares Jackson Pollock's (20th century) statement on the automatism in his action paintings, "when I am painting, I am not aware of what I am doing and the painting comes out well" with the statement of the Zen artist Wen T-ung (10th century), "at the beginning, I saw the bamboo and delighted in it, now I delight in it and lose consciousness of myself. Suddenly I forget that the brush is in my hand, the paper in front of me all at once I am exhilarated and the tall bamboo appears thick and luxuriant." Two artists from different cultures and centuries create an East-West connection by abandoning themselves in their artwork to the unconscious.

It is the suspension of consciousness of the human mind that Oan Kyu, Korean artist living in Rome, exercises in her calligraphical composition in order to perceive a higher dimension of the "self." Oan's work is a quest for self-discovery written in a state of "mood." Mood is understood in the ontological sense. "Mood" writes Heidegger, "is never a way of being attuned, and letting ourselves be attuned in this or that way in mood. Mood is precisely the basic way in which we are outside ourselves. But that is the way we are essentially and constantly." The calligraphical compositions which Oan Kyu entitles "Diary" or "Earlier than Writing" have the same creative process many of the 20th century artists used, which although "unique to each individual, invariably seemed to involve a detachment from "self and involvement with or perception of'other'." (A.G.)

Oan Kyu is firmly rooted in the tradition of calligraphers of her native country. The same technique, the same tools – ink, inkstone, brush and paper – to achieve a pictorial "automatism" based on perception, on intuition and on the unconscious to perceive, to use again a term from ontology, the forces of intentionality, which are at the very base of our Being and which have to do with possibilities. The state of Being before the act of decision, before the concrete thought or word, before writing – hence the title "Earlier than Writing." Automatism here is understood as an instrument to add chance, spontaneity and flux to the artwork. However, the flow of ink in Oan's script, as the flow of paint in Pollock's action paintings, is ultimately controlled. Oan Kyu creates a pictorial equivalent of man's perception and intuition of his complex inner self. Lines and points do not form a static image but embody a vibration, an abstract and at the same time bodily composition which Lorenzo Mango in his essay that accompanies this exhibition compares appropriately with a musical composition, "a score with no limits of the music beyond sound." While Pollock's journey into the inner self is highly tormented, Oan Kyu's composition placed into a well-balanced space transmits an emotion of harmony achieved out of a state of meditation and tension. It is fascinating to discover the affinity between these two artists of the Modern Age as well as that of a Zen artist of the 10th century who express and make visible in their artwork the very essence of man and the "primordial relation, the belonging together of man and Being" – of body and mind.

Barbara Goebels-Cattaneo
Art Historian and Curator
July 2, 2005

Catalog Statement

Earlier than Writing
Light, on the verge of turning transparent, or so dense that it almost resembles a solid surface, a delicate grid of horizontal lines occupies, methodically, the paintings of Oan Kyu. A faint sign, moving across the entire sheet of paper, from left to right, repeating itself in a vertical, uniform, "logical" order until it totally fills the space: this is the linguistic material used. What counts, what establishes the image of the work, is the construction, the search for an analytical dimension of artistic activity which bans any temptation to engage in expression or depiction, aiming instead at a sort of formulation of the language early connected with writing. It may be the very materials the artist uses, the same ones employed by calligraphers in her native land of Korea, meaning the ink sticks ground with ritual gestures, the thick-handled brushes with their narrow tips, the fibrous, highly absorbed paper, but one gets the distinct sensation, when, viewing these works, that the scriptural element has become fully integrated with the pictorial act. And this is true even when there is no analogy of signs or calling up of images. The analytical organization of the surface takes shape through the constant presence of a sign which moves across the sheet, thickening into stains at certain points, practically fading away in others. The work is generated through a lengthy, patient process. The brush moves along, the hand guides it, the paper absorbs the ink: this is how the page is produced, in the same way as copyists composed their sheets in the monasteries of centuries past. Writing is an act, an inclination of the spirit, which lies beyond any verbal evidence or iconographic reference. Oan Kyu refers to a writing earlier than writing, an original place which is also a vital source for painting, meaning the act itself. Indeed, the initial impression of an underlying analytic construction gradually diminishes the more familiar one becomes with the work. It remains in the form of a rigorous foundation on which to model the rhythm of the act of painting, the movement of the hand, lending it all a flavor of exalted musical lyricism. The contrast between airy lightness and density which served as a starting point represents the phenomenological constant of this pictorial writing. As the surface is gradually covered, there emerge oblique, transversal textures woven by the sign which, in the process of reproduction, seems to discover unsettling irregularities, small tensions in the image, and complies with them. The writing is thus transformed into a musical composition, a score with no limits for the music beyond sound. Or, else, it very clearly reminds the warp of a loom. The light, immaterial nature of Oan Kyu's painting is matched only by the intense craft with which she constructs her work. As much does it possess a fleeting musical quality as it is firmly anchored to a sound technique in its making.

Lorenzo Mango

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