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(Yonhap Interview) When painting sky becomes Sunday 'ritual'

2018/02/09 10:14

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By Woo Jae-yeon

SEOUL, Feb. 9 (Yonhap) -- There is hardly anything that looks big or significant under the overwhelmingly vast sky. Or is there?

   Artist Byron Kim's "Sunday Paintings" series, which he began in 2001, is an artistic and intellectual quest to look for a metaphor where a small part stands for the whole thing by observing his mundane daily life against the indifference of the celestial sphere.

Artist Byron Kim stands in front of his "Sunday Paintings" series in this photo provided by Kukje Gallery in Seoul on Feb.1, 2018. (Yonhap) Artist Byron Kim stands in front of his "Sunday Paintings" series in this photo provided by Kukje Gallery in Seoul on Feb.1, 2018. (Yonhap)

"Somehow I've always been interested in the subject matter of very small things compared to big things. Once you examine a small and trivial thing, you would realize it is also important," he said in a recent interview with Yonhap News Agency.

The artist, 56, is currently running a solo exhibition called "Sky" at Kukje Gallery in Seoul, his first in the country in seven years. A similar exhibition is also taking place at James Cohan in New York, where he now lives and works.

Byron Kim's "Sunday Painting 12/28/08" is shown in this photo provided by the artist and Kukje Gallery. (Yonhap) Byron Kim's "Sunday Painting 12/28/08" is shown in this photo provided by the artist and Kukje Gallery. (Yonhap)

Every Sunday, he observes and paints the day's sky on square canvases, 35.5 centimeters on a side. From azure and sky blue to grey and purple, the sky changes its hues and dynamics depending on the time and weather.

"When I feel really lazy, I pray for no clouds or all clouds. It is easy that way," he joked. And there were a few times when he skipped his Sunday appointment with the sky and painted it on another day, he admitted.

On the finished painting, he writes down a diaristic passage, juxtaposing natural wonder with his "personal but not that personal" stories like his daughter's soccer game and his dad's birthday.

Byron Kim's "Untitled (for H.W.S.)" is shown in this photo taken by Keith Park and provided by the artist and Kukje Gallery. (Yonhap) Byron Kim's "Untitled (for H.W.S.)" is shown in this photo taken by Keith Park and provided by the artist and Kukje Gallery. (Yonhap)

For the Seoul show, he chose 50 paintings from the "Sunday Paintings" series particularly related to Korea and traveling. Also on display are several pieces from his "Untitled (for...)" series, which depicts the night sky seen in the city.

"I find that the sky at night in the city is very intimate. In the country, it is so vast that it is a little bit scary. You are seeing light from stars that are so far away that it takes so many years to reach us, I can't even imagine that amount of time."

   In the series, he expresses what he felt while walking around at night looking up at the sky and how it made him miss close friends and family.

"These paintings are about these intimate feelings and they are slightly melancholy," he said. "My works are about relationships and sometimes about personal relationships. Often it is emotional and often it is sad and lonely."

  

Byron Kim's "Sunday Painting 1/27/08" is shown in this photo provided by the artist and Kukje Gallery. (Yonhap) Byron Kim's "Sunday Painting 1/27/08" is shown in this photo provided by the artist and Kukje Gallery. (Yonhap)

Born in La Jolla, California, to Korean parents, Kim studied English literature at Yale University, where he now teaches painting. He said he wanted to be a poet but changed his career to become an artist as a young adult.

"If I could be a really good poet, I would prefer to be a poet," he said. "But everybody (at the school) was better than me. ... I thought I could be an artist like a poet. And that is what I've been trying to do for 30 years."

   For him, art should be something "really difficult to understand" and "intellectually stimulating" but "fun and interesting" at the same time. That might explain his yearslong devotion to the subject of the sky.

"Everyone knows what the sky is. But do you really know what it is? You probably have no idea."

   jaeyeon.woo@yna.co.kr

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