'I obey time': The artist who spent three decades on a single painting

Written by Oscar Holland, CNNHong Kong

It was the late Nineteen Eighties when South Korean artist Myonghi Kang started work on her portray “Le temps des camélias” (“The Time of Camellias”). Living in Paris’ nineteenth arrondissement on the time, she would periodically revisit the then-vertical canvas so as to add strokes of colour or floral types.

“I would go back to the painting with all these questions in my mind, and memories from traveling,” she recalled, by way of a translator, in a telephone interview.

But the portray by no means felt completed. Kang finally deserted her creation, and it was not till she took it to South Korea’s Jeju Island in 2007 that she felt impressed to revisit the paintings — and to modify its orientation to that of a standard horizontal panorama.

“It was only when I brought the painting to Jeju in springtime that I had the courage, after 10 years, to work on it again,” she stated. “I had a lot of camellias in my studio, and so I started bringing in all the elements that I saw around me.”

Myonghi Kang's "Le temps des camellia" was finally completed in 2018.

Myonghi Kang’s “Le temps des camellia” was lastly accomplished in 2018. Credit: Courtesy of Villepin

It can be one other decade earlier than the ethereal portray, now on display at Hong Kong’s Villepin gallery, was full. As such, the work depicts not solely the colourful flowers alluded to in its title, however the passing of time itself.

“I cannot really explain,” Kang stated. “I just felt this painting had to be made like that. I trusted the moment — to know the right moment for me to paint the different parts until I was finished.”

“I would not dare say that I paint time — that would be very arrogant — but time is in what I paint,” she later added. “I let myself be the hands of time. I obey time, but do not try to manipulate it.”

This impulsive strategy is typical of Kang, whose quietly radiant artwork reveals her advanced relationship with nature. Now in her mid-70s, she will spend years on a single piece, her often-gentle brushstrokes belying a course of she described as “very, very intense.”

“I just look at paintings and feel they are not finished. And it can even be hard to sleep,” she defined. “They are always moving and progressing, and sometimes I never get the feeling they are done. Sometimes, I wish I could have a drink and forget about it, but it’s not possible. I always need to try to solve the little things I see every day in front of me.”

Myonghi Kang's "La maison de opticien" ("The Optician's House).

Myonghi Kang’s “La maison de opticien” (“The Optician’s House). Credit: Courtesy of Villepin

Quite suddenly, however, the compulsion to sign — and thus finish — a painting will strike her “like a lightning bolt,” she said.

“It’s not one thing that I plan or know rationally. It’s spontaneous.”

‘Nature is everything’

While Kang’s absorbing paintings appear abstract at first, they are often grounded in the world around her. But though her creations resemble landscapes, they never depict a single specific scene, rather an amalgamation of sights, memories and sensations.

“Every second, from once I get up to the time I begin working, is a part of the portray,” said Kang, who is also known for writing poetry. “And reminiscences — perhaps from 10 years earlier than — of camellias, for instance, will even be built-in.

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“There is not one figurative way of expressing what I paint. It’s the accumulation of observing — trying to capture the sky, for example — and really capture the ‘whole,’ rather than a specific camellia or a certain rock.”

Set throughout three flooring in Hong Kong, Kang’s newest present brings collectively works from the previous decade, together with the aforementioned “Le temps des camélias.” Spending time with the canvases helps carry the artist’s hazy material — whether or not orange blossom, the home of a neighboring optician or clouds swirling in pale blue skies — into sharper focus.

The gallerist behind the present, Arthur de Villepin, believes the work’s magnificence is discovered within the small “details” noticed in its firm.

“You see the different layers, and you see that, sometimes, the brushstrokes will be vivid and quite quick and represent a certain part of her personality,” he stated over the telephone from the south of France. “Or sometimes the colors will be very bright. Then at other moments the colors fade away, and that capacity to put different lives at different moments … that’s what I found amazing.”

Kang's work on display at Villepin gallery in Hong Kong.

Kang’s work on show at Villepin gallery in Hong Kong. Credit: Courtesy of Villepin

Complete with pure sounds taking part in from hidden audio system, the exhibition serves to move guests away from the busy surrounds of downtown Hong Kong to the bucolic Jeju Island, the place Kang — who lives and works between South Korea and France — nonetheless paints.

“In our minds, nature is grass and trees and flowers,” Kang stated, when requested about her relationship together with her environment. “But nature is everything. Nature is people, it’s a city, it’s history … Nature is a bridge to allow dialogue between all things.”

Myonghi Kang” is on at Villepin, Hong Kong, till Oct. 24, 2021.

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