I have not once in my life expected that I would be creating process-based art. Throughout my years as an adult, I was very much drawn into brutal imagery — not a portrayal of violence — but aesthetic characteristics that symbolize death, the bleakness of nihility, and the animalistic nature of human psychology. Recently, during my two years as a graduate student in the Master of Fine Art program at Pratt Institute, my art and its philosophy went through a drastic shift. I have not changed as a person, and I certainly have not changed as an artist. The underlying theme in my art has stayed the same, but the method in which I articulate and communicate to the viewer has evolved — my visual and conceptual vocabulary have been expanded.
Thunderstorms, maelstroms, hurricanes, and tornadoes are awe-inspiring natural processes that are capable of bringing destruction and erosion. They are the combination of velocity, mass, and repetition and are also widely used in many forms of art as metaphors for turbulence, distress, confusion, turmoil, and, in the case of the maelstrom, the downward spiral, which is a metaphor itself. These metaphors and imagery lay the foundation and starting point for my aesthetic and conceptual exploration.
I take turbulent motions found in nature and adopt them as hand gestures to create drawing-paintings. These motions are used to create lines on large sheets of paper that are often wider and taller than the viewer. Through mind-numbing repetition, I lay marks over one another, letting the process take control of the creation of dense atmospheres. This labor-intensive meditative process allows both me as the artist and the viewers to get lost within the myriad of marks. From up-close, the drawing reveals its chaotic swirls; from far away, it looks wooly and dimensional. It may seem like tedium, but to me, it is meditative. The textural and topographic otherworldly scenery that arise from the parallel between image and process are open for interpretation.
My choice of mediums are ballpoint pen and colored pencil. Occasionally, I would add crayon or oil pastel over colored pencil to add variation of line quality, but usually varying the pressure is sufficient. I choose to use ballpoint pen as one of my primary mediums because of our familiarity with them. They are used everyday as an instrument for writing, and may be had inexpensively. Sometimes they are even given for free. Ballpoint pens are taken for granted and are not worth much money. Despite our familiarity with ballpoint pens, we do not see many artists who work exclusively with them. I want to show the viewer what can be achieved with something that is so easily lost and given away. Dye-based ink will fade over time, and will change in state as it is exposed to UV rays. It is a material that does not last forever, like everything in life. (Saitzyk)
I choose to use colored pencil for the same reason. It is taken for granted and usually associated with crafts and children. By covering sheets of paper as wide as 6 feet, I demonstrate the capabilities of the lowly colored pencil and the human characteristic of perseverance. I use a very limited set of tools and techniques to create large drawings that try to push just a few qualities to the edge. Many times I refer to my drawings as “paintings” because, although I exclusively work with dry mediums, I treat the individual tools like tiny brushes used to fill a large area. (Image 1)
I have developed specific techniques for creating varying marks. Instead of holding one pen or pencil at a time, I hold multiples to create illusions of depth, usually between five and ten of the same kind. Depending on how I hold them, they form clusters of lines that look different. In a bundle formation, they work great to build density and depth. When the mediums are held in a straight line, they are used to create lines and flows within the density. (Image 2, 3) Holding more mediums will lessen the pressure of each medium, making them lighter, and holding less will increase their pressure, darkening the lines.
My drawings are a form of documentation, in the form of both hand gestures and bodily movements. It is also a documentation of the surrounding in relation to the drawing surface. I achieve this through the use of frottage. When a drawing medium slides over the sheet of paper, the medium responds to the slight difference of height on the textures of the surface under the sheet of paper and changes in pressure of the hand gestures are recorded onto paper. This creates a “rubbed-on” effect that forms compositions and images. (Image 4) Sometimes they are deliberate and sometimes they are not. In the case of deliberate image-making through frottage, the paper is moved around on different surfaces and worked over. (Mayer)
Documentation of perseverance is a large part of the conceptual basis of my work. This is shown in the density of the marks, the scale of the pieces, and its quantity. (Image 5) It would not enforce my concept if I made small drawings, because they would be relatively easy to make, assuming the size of the marks doesn’t change. Perseverance is an important aspect in the concept of my art because of my art’s meditative nature. Only by spending long periods of time with each piece am I able to achieve cathartic meditation through mind-numbing repetition. Patience and perseverance are directly correlated to the density and scale of my pieces.
One of my goals with each series of drawings is to experiment with the form of the paper – size and orientation. Both are good ways to imply certain things without drawing them. For example, a piece that is 42 x 42 inches may imply a window to see through, while a piece that is 96 x 42 inches and hung vertically may imply that it is a monolith, a portal, a door, or a portrayal of a human figure. (Image 6) Pieces that are hung horizontally are more explicitly topographic and are landscapes. I don’t intend certain pieces to have specific implications, but instead strive to keep it open for interpretation. It is up to the viewer to interpret them in certain ways.
I intend the drawings be open to different readings by the viewer, including myself. Most of the time I am merely guiding the process and not the imagery, so I interpret my pieces in my own way. Even when the imagery is guided, it is only a general idea that I have and not a specific representation I have in mind. Some ways viewers interpret my drawings are as being topographical, a landscape, or an energy field. Some may see nothing but a drawing of a carpet, but this is also a valid way to view it. Many times I aim to create an atmosphere, so it is normal for a piece to look like a landscape in the end.
It is important to fill the entire sheet of paper with small marks. Each full-page round of marks to build up density is referred to as a “pass”. Intensity of labor and density of the marks were always an aesthetic quality that I pursued, even during my days of symbolic representation. My representational drawings usually took me a few weeks to complete. My largest storm drawings take one week at most. Many viewers see the labor involved in the pieces and question whether I am enjoying the process, and every time I am asked I tell them that it is more enjoyable and less labor-intensive than drawing representationally. I get lost in my own organized mess that I am creating.
Every piece is an experiment. The variables are color, media, scale, orientation, and composition. The controls are the body gestures of the mark-making techniques. Through these experimentations, I create a different atmosphere each time. These atmospheres are chaotic on both macro and micro scales. Making them large and dense are important to my practice, as smaller scales will defeat the act of meditative labor and repetition. Each piece must be large enough to fill the viewer’s peripheral vision when standing close. All vertical pieces must be looking down at the viewer as if they are monoliths or deities. I may or may not plan out the drawing. I will do whatever I feel like doing at the moment. I seek autonomy in my practice as much as my art requires its own autonomy of process to drive itself.
I do not consider my work to be abstract. Rather, they are representational drawings of abstract ideas. What I am trying to capture are the dull fuzz in the brain that is felt during confusion, the edge of a knife floating a centimeter above my eye experienced during anxiety, the hollowing of the skull felt during a panic attack, and the zooming out and streaking of the vision when horrified. I recollect or imagine these moments and translate them into lines on paper as a way to dull anxiety.
When I make my ballpoint pen drawings, I let go of deep thought and try to lose inhibitions. As a person who likes to measure everything and is preoccupied with symmetry and physical perfection, too much thinking and control impose a lot of constraints on my actions as an artist. When I make passes on my large sheets of paper, I am letting go of my preoccupations. As premeditated representational imagery is out of the equation, I no longer find the need to stop and think about my next moves but instead spend more time with the action. This letting go of inhibitions has created a reason for me to steadily continue with my process — I make my art to lose inhibitions, and my art needs me to draw itself. It is a synergistic process.
As to why I make my art, or just art in general, I see this creative output as a method of achieving catharsis. All the activities and interests I love to pursue and try to become good at – art, music, and weightlifting – all originated from the interest of self-expression and evolved into ways of unleashing the fire inside to the world beyond my corporeal barrier of skin. I do not consider myself to be an angry person. However, I have trouble expressing my emotions through body language and spoken language and instead prefer to either not express anything at all or through creative media. Productivity has become an obsession that prevents me from succumbing to my anxiety.
The conceptual basis of Neurotica is the result of the manifestation of the pursuit for catharsis against frustration, uncertainty, and anxiety. I have felt a need for this catharsis as an artist during the sudden change of my practice and as a person who does not identify as a full-time member of one culture or geographical place. Core thematic elements from my previous practice carry over, and although the current line of work may look abstracted, they are very similarly autobiographical.
At the time of writing this thesis, I am 29 years old. I was born in conservative South Korea on December 5th, 1986 to a religious family. I’ve attended an English-speaking school since kindergarten and moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, in middle school. I’ve moved across the nation to attend various colleges, from Seattle, WA, to Chicago, IL, and then to Brooklyn, NY. Before graduate school I moved to Korea to live with my parents, work on my art, and to gain work experience. I’ve moved around a lot and don’t consider myself to be from one particular place.
During my four years in Korea I experienced a massive culture shock. Not only did I have to refamiliarize myself with living with my family, whom I hadn’t been living with since 10th grade, but also as a cultural foreigner I felt out of place and didn’t know how to interact with people. My inner conflict, which stems from my multicultural background and my religious upbringing, were the main driving factors for creating illustrative art that examine my identity and question the futility and vanity of humanity through the use of morbid symbolic imagery and ambiguity.
Submission and obedience are concepts that both Abrahamic religions and Asian cultures have in common. It is the norm in Korea that the community as one takes priority before the individual, so much that individuality is oftentimes looked down upon and viewed as disobedience. One must become a sheep in an act of collectivism and shun the individuality of the goat. My silent pacing between the right and left hand is the culmination of religious pressure and the uncertain pacing between the collectivism perpetuated by Eastern values and the individuality perpetuated by Western values.
The nihilistic enthusiasm for Armageddon in Abrahamic religions was the source of my interest in the notion of the downfall of man through futility, despair, evil, and decadence. It also sparked my admiration for the human spine, which is a symbol of individualism, authority, and potency. I used elements from religious art and contemporary culture to create ironic, morbid imagery using the human body and its distortion, with emphasis on the human spine, as a subtle and silent passive-aggressive defiance against the sheep I am expected to be. Additionally, the fact that I decided to pursue a degree in art instead of medicine, law, or other “honorable” occupations was an act of defiance against collectivist elitism of Korean culture.
My upbringing has had a great effect on my aesthetic style. Growing up in a conservative collective society encouraged concrete thought rather than the abstract. Furthermore, as a child, I was fascinated by the detailed life-like illustrations found in many religious publications. The reason I worked with representational imagery is because I wanted to reference religious paintings before the advent of contemporary art, which were more like illustrations than fine art. I have incorporated dramatic lighting found in paintings from the Baroque era to add additional visual elements that reference religious art. I was not interested in drawing happy imagery. With heavy subject matter came the dramatic lighting and morbid imagery. “Why can’t you draw happy things?” they asked. Now, by choosing to create process-based ambiguous representations of abstract thoughts, I feel I have fully defied what was expected of me as an artist by the people and society that thought it could mold me. I no longer need representation to ask questions.
Heavy metal music aesthetics have also had a profound effect on my aesthetic style. It adds a highly recognizable look and feel that complement my art in the form of busy details, dense pattern-like marks, and enigmatic imagery. Intensity and drama are both elements in heavy metal imagery that I have both consciously and subconsciously incorporated. It is not my intention to make my art fitting for heavy metal album covers and I try to stay away from popular imagery, but I occasionally receive such comments from peers and strangers regardless of whether I’m making representational art or abstracted imagery. Many times those comments are said by people who are not involved in or have any interest in fine art, therefore lacking insight or historical context. However, it is a good thing that my aesthetic style is easily recognizable no matter what I create.
During my first year at Pratt I came to a dead end with my practice. I could not find new ways to express my concept without reusing the same imagery over and over again, and I ran out of ideas. I decided to stop doing what I was doing and started experimenting with different media, color, imagery, and themes. One of the things I did was mindlessly fill up entire sheets of paper without forethought. It was relaxing and took my mind off my anxiety as an artist. Occasionally I experimented with drawing or painting atmospheres and vague landscapes instead of figures or anything hardly recognizable. A result of this was a scene that depicts chaotic movement of air or water. This particular drawing came in useful later on, as I used it as a starting point for my new concept. (Image 7)
In summer of 2015 I decided to draw more chaotic movements of water with swirling motions, until I realized that it was the swirling motion that was the chaotic aspect and not the image. I fought the urge to create an image and worked on using that one technique to fill the entire sheet of paper with random colors. What arose from this process was an incomprehensible chaos of lines and colors that collided violently with each other to create atmosphere, landscape, or energy fields.
It is clear that both the artist’s and viewer’s experience take a big part in the completion of my works. A drawing-painting is completed by the viewer as he/she converses with both the piece and his/her cognitive construct either in an attempt to recognize an image or in an attempt to find a way to resolve from the dense fog. When I work on a piece, each mark is a reaction to the one before it and each pass of ink builds upon the marks made during the previous pass.
In John Dewey’s book Art as Experience, Dewey seeks to convince his readers that the entire process of art is important, claiming that the entire processes of creation and viewing should have more emphasis than the completed physical product. The creation, pause, background, thought, culture, viewing, and critiquing are more important than the visible art. To Dewey, art is not a thing – it’s something that happens; it’s the experience of the artist making the work and also of the audience receiving it. This is entirely true in the case of my practice.
It is not my intent to be classified as an abstract expressionist, as I take little influence from it. Rather, I am inspired and influenced by atmospheric surrealists such as Anselm Keifer and Zdzislaw Beksinski. Salvador Dali, H.R. Giger, Alex Grey, and Peter Gric also contributed to my aesthetic style to some degree. If pointed out that my works are of abstract expressionist aesthetics, I will not deny that claim. Visually, I see the importance of the repetitive marks an impressionist aesthetic and the impulsivity of the mark-making a quality of expressionism. The way it gains insight from the human mind is reminiscent of surrealism. The atmosphere plays an important role in creating dreamscapes. Pluralism is important in the creation of an artist’s identity and vocabulary in contemporary art, and the same applies to me. I believe that through the dynamic inspiration and influence, aesthetics converge into similar forms, just like the way convergent evolution works. When viewers make the conjecture that I am influenced by the aesthetics or processes of Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, or Jackson Pollock, it is proof of historical convergence. I consider myself to be alongside drawing artists like Daniel Zeller, Paul Noble, Irma Blank, and Il Lee. The tedium these artists and I exhibit in our work are symbolic of the frantic pace of life in modern urban societies.
Recently I have been experimenting with not completely filling the sheet of paper with marks. Usually there is a border around the edges of the paper that works as a way to imply that the drawings are windows or portals and also as a way to imply self-imposed constraint, which is a direct reference to my inner conflict stemming from my religious and multicultural background. I have started to move the marks away from the edges and make the borders more dynamic, either to create a positive space or a negative space of marks. Whether the marks are creating a positive space or a negative space is up to the viewer to decide. (Image 8)
My transition from representational figure art to the exploration of abstraction and process has been, in my opinion, the most important milestone for my career as a student in the field of art. With this newfound knowledge, I am hoping to further explore the possibilities of images that can be achieved through the interplay of scale, composition, size of the marks, density of the marks, color, and texture gained from frottage. It is also possible that I will be incorporating representational imagery or the figure to explore the atmospheric imagery that can be achieved. I will be exercising autonomy over my art as much as my art strives to be autonomous by itself.
Dewey, John. Art as Experience. New York: Minton, Balch, 1934. Print.
Mayer, Ralph. The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques. New York: Viking, 1981. Print.
Saitzyk, Steven L. Art Hardware: The Definitive Guide to Artists’ Materials. New York: Watson-Guptill, 1987. Print.
Smith. The Pen and Ink Book: Material and Techniques for Today’s Artist. New York: Watson-Guptill, 1992. Print.
6 x 10 ft
Ball point pen on paper (Lenox 100)
42 x 96 in (per panel)
Ball point pen on paper (Arches Cover White and BFK Rives White)
6 x 6 ft
Ball point pen on paper (Lenox 100)
75 x 42 in
Colored pencil on paper (BFK Rives White)
Overlord (1 of 3)
42 x 96 in
Ball point pen on paper (BFK Rives White)
- Colored pencil piece
- Multiple pens held in hand in a straight line and pulled in one direction to create swirls moving in one direction
- Multiple pens held in hand in a straight line and pulled in one direction to create flows
- Using frottage to create topographic lines
- Dense marks
- Implication of figure
- Prototype piece from early 2015
- Moving away from the edges
- Studio practice