THE INDEPENDENT VOICE OF THE VISUAL ARTS
by Amanda Lancour
Printmaking is an ancient art form. The earliest print, a woodcut image, dates back to 868 C.E. Woodcuts can be highly detailed or aesthetically quite primitive. Complex, sophisticated images can be made with many layered cuts, and colorful or simple monochromatic, primitive prints can be made from singular cuts.
Nearly a millennium later, the science of photography developed. The first long-lasting, viable image created solely with light-sensitive material was the daguerreotype, invented in 1839 and popular until the 1850s. It was the earliest technique that captured clear, finely-detailed images while only requiring minutes of exposure. New innovations made photography more practical, efficient, and versatile. Later, much like with woodcuts, we invented a means by which multiple prints could be made from a single negative.
At the advent of practical photography was the simple question: if it is not produced by the skilled hand with a brush or pencil, is it art? Or is it a simple matter of mechanical pragmatics, mere science?
Photography is widely used in portraiture, landscapes, science, medicine, and advertising. If a work is commercially commissioned by a client to sell concepts or products to consumers or created for a personal biographical familial record, does it qualify as art? At what point should it be recognized as Fine Art? Eventually photographers stopped trying to make photographs mimic paintings and started trying to find a way for photography to be its own personal way of seeing.
All this background information is relevant to two prominent Korean-born artists recently on exhibit at the Andrew Bae Gallery, photographer Jungjin Lee and printmaker and mixed-media artist Kwang Jean Park.
There is no question that contemporary photographer Jungjin Lee’s large-scale photographic prints transcend the scientific mechanical pragmatic side of photography. Lee’s perfectionism perfectly merges her subconscious mind and emotional state with her vision of the physical world.
It is not often that photography is mistaken for charcoal drawings where form, gesture and positive versus negative space become the image. Lee’s photographic paintings are derived from an arduous printmaking process: 8x10 large format negatives are projected in the darkroom onto handmade Korean rice paper and then hand-brushed by the artist herself with photosensitive emulsion. The now-light-sensitive photographic rice paper has to be stretched and dried onto thicker paper. The resulting large-scale prints are in varying sizes.
Jungjin Lee, Unnamed Road 011, 2011, archival pigment print, (small: 20.5x40”, edition of 7), (large: 40x78.5”, edition of 3)
Since her “Unnamed Road” series in 2015, Lee has combined her traditional darkroom practices with archival pigment printing. Using the same laborious process to create her darkroom prints, she scans the original and then enhances and retouches in the digital darkroom where she can create even more textures and tonal ranges, finally printing an archival digital print onto Japanese mulberry paper.
Jungjin Lee’s landscapes are much more an expression out of a surreal dream than images replicating reality. I can see strong elements of line, form, and positive and negative space derived from formative training in ceramics as well as calligraphy.
The artist taught herself photography while completing her undergraduate degree in ceramics and before gaining her MFA at New York University in 1991. She was a friend and assistant of Robert Frank. While there, she learned much less about printing and the technique of photography and much more about the idea of cultivating self-expression.
Lee’s career has included numerous notable exhibitions and commissioned works. She was one of 12 photographers to be selected for a six-month residency project highlighting the highly-contested territories of Israel and the West Bank. Lee was the only non-Jewish artist chosen. Lee’s retrospective “Echo” has toured Europe and the United States. Because of her notable recognition in the US and Europe, she was recently invited to show in South Korea in 2018.
Kwang Jean Park, a contemporary printmaker and, more recently, a mixed-media artist, also uses multi-step techniques to create her large prints on paper. She uses a traditional two-step process to create large woodblock prints.
Kwang Jean Park, 2010.08, woodblock and drawing, 30x44”, edition 8, 2010
First, she designs the composition from which the woodblock will be cut into multiple panels. Complex, colorful images, created with many layered cuts, transfer oil-based inks via multiple printings onto paper.
Kwang Jean Park, 2013.9, woodblock print with drawing, 30x44”, edition of 9, 2014
She finishes the cycle of her process by returning to
the paper with brush and charcoal, adding elements of color or lines.
Park works in small editions of usually 5 to 10 prints. Each finished piece is essentially unique. Oil-based ink prints are then reworked in charcoal or graphite. The juxtaposition of light and dark and positive and negative space expresses the Taoist concept of yin and yang, the intertwining of opposites.
Kwang Jean Park, Everglades, 08, 2014, archival pigment print, (small: 14x29”, edition of 7), (large: 22x77”, edition of 3)
In her most recent series, Park has done away with the woodblock cut process completely. In Unnamed Road, for example, she uses paint on paper and then reworks the piece with graphite pencil, creating a metallic-like finish to the works.
Jungjin Lee and Kwang Jean Park were on display through the end of February and are also featured in printmaker Noda Tetsuya’s show, “Works on Paper,” through April 28th at the Andrew Bae Gallery, Chicago IL.
Amanda Lancour is a photographer and art writer with a background in art history and gallery curation during her formative years. She has recently relocated back to Chicago from New York City.