by Jonathan Goodman
Daru-Junghyang Kim. Invisible Shine. 2014 – 2016. Oil on canvas. 72 x 96 inches.
Daru, a veteran Korean-born painter who has spent many years in New York, offered a beautiful collection of paintings recently at Art Mora in Chelsea. Inevitably, when we see work like Daru’s in a place like New York, we are faced with a matter of influence—does her subject matter and style come from Asia or the West? But this question has been asked for a long time here, at least the length of a generation or two, to the point where it has lost its incisiveness.
We have come to a place in painting where stylistic artifacts of cultures can be easily taken up by artists who do not necessarily belong to the particular background they borrow from. At the same time, it seems inevitable that a painter like Daru would be deeply affected by her upbringing in Korea—she went to Seoul National University, a top school for art in Seoul—and for her training at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
This balance—or imbalance—is central to the way Daru makes art. Her lyricism belongs to both cultures, but we cannot say exactly where the presence of one ends and the other begins. This doesn’t really matter though in Daru’s paintings, for its consequences—the end results—relate to a lyric impulse easily understood across cultures and time.
Paintings like Daru’s are actually meditations in color. They describe both a natural and an abstract world—the artist spends much of her time in upstate New York, near Bard College, surrounded by nature. At this point in art history it is extremely difficult to come upon and structure of an original point of view of the landscape, but perhaps Daru’s Asian background counts for a lot. Nature of course is key to classical Asian painting, and Daru’s efforts look like works that bridge the gap between the particulars of her art history and the current art-world atmosphere now.
Asian painting tends to rely more on intimacy than bold gesture, and Daru’s work searches for subtlety rather than a big splash. As a result, its lyricism may be lost on a viewer who is looking for big effects. But that does not mean Daru is limited in her offerings. Instead, it becomes clear that her point of view expresses a contemporary reading of nature, in which the subjectivity of the artist becomes as important as the reality she paints. This is where Daru makes herself known as a contemporary artist, someone interested in the complexities given to the current landscape, its beautiful but now tenuous world of trees and flowers.
But neither does Daru neglect the spiritual and abstract implications of what she sees. The largest, most ambitious painting in her show is called “Invisible Shine” (2014-16), a six by eight foot oil on canvas filled with a bluish atmosphere and abstract designs. Perhaps Daru is at her best when she merges her obvious predilection for the colors and forms of nature with a poetic understanding of abstraction. It doesn’t really matter whether she is poised between or melding the two worlds; instead, what becomes important is the balance resulting from the painting’s effects.
Mist-like in appearance, dotted with groups of circles that might be nonobjective renderings of flowers, we see how the painting is both lyric and objective, consumed as it is with the presence of both nature and art. We know, too, from the title Invisible Shrine that the spiritual life of the artist is being referred to, albeit in a way that cannot be seen, either literally or metaphorically. The shrine does not belong to a particular belief system, but it does indicate the spirituality of the painting’s effort. Transcendental may be the best word to describe the picture.
Daru-Junghyang Kim. The Skin of Spring. 2015 – 2016. Oil on canvas. 48 x 30 inches.
“The Skin of Spring,” (2015-16) is an evocation of the light and color of that particular season. Yellow, reds, greens, and light purples display the hues of the flowers at this time. It is a painting of undiluted, if subtly expressed, happiness, and we are lucky to find someone still capable of appreciating nature in a way recognizably tied to the actual world. But it cannot be said that the true forms of flowers and blossoms are visually available to us; instead, we have a nearly Impressionistic vision of their effect.
Atmosphere is a primary aspect in most of the artist’s work, and so we have an approximation of spring, whose skin would reflect the ambient hues of the environment upstate, where Daru paints. In a way, it is fair to describe these works not only as impressions of nature, but also as Asian in their implications. But the two ways of seeing, to Daru’s credit, cannot be separated. The combination of insights and styles is seamless, true to the artist’s vision and, likely, our own.
Daru’s paintings convey a deep-seated affection for nature, one that causes us to appreciate the outside world despite the works’ abstract nature. This is greatly important because we are increasingly relying on technology for our experience of imagery, which distances us from actual experience. Daru’s paintings help to correct our vision of things.