Traditional Korean landscapes encrusted with Swarovski crystals on view in New York - Korea Times
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Traditional Korean landscapes encrusted with Swarovski crystals on view in New York

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"Artificial Landscape ― Luminous Crystal1" (2018) by Kim Jong-sook / Courtesy of Gallery Grimson

By Park Han-sol

Korean traditional landscape paintings that feature panoramic scenes sprung from both reality and artists' imaginations ― mountains punctuated by thick forests, soaring cliffs and water roaring down deep ravines ― have carved out a central spot in the centuries of Korean art history.

Artist Kim Jong-sook has played with these age-old visual conventions for nearly two decades by bringing the spellbinding landscape to life not through ink and brush but a constellation of sparkling Swarovski crystals peppering the canvas.

Twelve works from her "Artificial Landscape" and "White Material" series, which depict the shimmering dreamland adorned with pearls, opals and crystals of various hues, are currently on view in New York at the exhibition "Evanescence," held at Crossing Art in collaboration with Korea's Gallery Grimson.

"Artificial Landscape ― Luminous Green Picture" (2018) by Kim Jong-sook / Courtesy of Gallery Grimson

Although the pieces may look like a mass of indistinguishable glitter from afar, when investigated in detail, they reveal Kim's painstaking work process, which involves applying each crystal onto the canvas by hand. Large-scale paintings can, therefore, take years to complete, contoured with more than a million different sized gemstones.

Her juxtaposition of Korea's visual tradition with present-day jewelry is influenced by her father, who was a master craftsman and owner of a lacquerware workshop in Seoul. Inspired by the glistening mother-of-pearl forming the patterns of traditional landscapes on his lacquered furniture, the 53-year-old artist decided to incorporate Swarovski crystals into her own artworks.

As she repurposes the commercially manufactured gemstones to reimagine the traditional natural imagery, her works raise questions about the superficial consumerist culture prevalent in present-day Korea standing in contrast to the country's long-established customs of ink-and-wash paintings.

"Artificial Landscape ― Neo-Geo Vertical Blue2" (2021) by Kim Jong-sook / Courtesy of Gallery Grimson

One very important element of Kim's paintings is the viewing environment itself, especially the gallery's ambient light that makes each studded crystal twinkle and radiate in different ways. The work becomes almost like a living, dynamic entity, inviting the viewers to constantly change their positions to observe it from different angles and watch the light bouncing off freely.

"It comes alive more when you see it in person and it exudes that richness of light. It gives you that mystical feeling of flickering auroras in the Arctic," the artist was quoted as saying by the New York gallery.

The exhibition "Evanescence" runs through Oct. 8 at Crossing Art.


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