“What is beyond there?”
Let’s draw the moon on the night sky. How should I draw? It looks little dull once I drew the line of the moon and painted with inky water. How about draw the cloud over top of the moon and let the moon shining through it where brush can not reach. You don’t have to say anything to express what is in it and you don’t have to even draw to show and that is what we call grace of this drawing. We have no hard time finding this grace from the work of artist Lee Jae sam. People recall him as craftsman of art. He doesn’t have enough craftsmanship to be called professional artist, and he doesn’t show much bent for an artist to be called craftsman. But what we need to focus about him is his charcoal which leads him to the path of craftsman and his work “forest” entered him into the artist of the world.
Charcoal only used in basic drawing like sketch or dessein rather than used in actual painting due to its lack of accuracy and durability. However he is the one who made charcoal painting up to the level of real painting through ten years of endless experiments. Now what made him so devoted over charcoal? He says that charcoal is not black “color “it is black “space”. When acrylic and oil painting show the color by reflecting light, charcoal makes black space by absorbing light like the black hole. Charcoal’s light without the light, he was maybe thinking about motherhood in infinite space where it bears anything in. Plus charcoal is his divine tool in some way. Because reappearance of the forest with charcoal is like reviving the spirit of the forest for charcoal originally comes from burned wood.
Sometimes people had mistaken him for bamboo artist. But he is telling them this would be his last exhibit of bamboo paintings. In fact he exhibits of a Japanese apricot tree painting for the first time. And now he is planning to exhibit the pine tree in the future. After all these pine tree, a Japanese apricot tree, and bamboo are the three creatures standing in the harsh cold and blowing wind in winter without losing their own color.
It would be little quick to judge his painting as Oriental painting or the Four Gracious Plants just because of these three traditional subjects he is using. We have to focus on title “beyond there” of his work to understand the artist. It is hard not to ask the artist why he named all of his works as “beyond there” for the last 10 years. Then he answered what he focused on the paintings are not the subject itself, it is rather about the empty space between the subjects he usually puts his mind on.
It would be a shame if you can only see the finger but not the moon when you point your finger at it. When you see the moon you got to let the finger go. It means he wanted to show black space between the bamboos not the bamboo itself. The mystery land, he wanted to see and wanted to showed, is in between those black, empty bamboos. Winds blowing between Bamboo forests just like spirit of forest. What is beyond out there among bamboo forest where wind blows?
Kwon, Hyuck Ju(Artside curator)
Lee Jaesam – The dark and deep drawing
Park Young Taek
Professor at Kyung Kee University
Fine Arts critic
1. Anthropology is the study of the ‘patterns of man.’ So is art. Art seeks to look into the life of undefined answers and multiple meanings man brings into existence. In doing so, art treats the uncertain man or the uncertainty of man, which is difficult to define; that in other words, means to accept the diversity of the human being. The diversity of man generates meaning in itself, and the meanings leading to interpretation. These interpretations enrich the text and become the basis for depth. However, today’s system and the human form required in life’s frames reject ambiguity or does not accept it. In a society of limitless competition and capital, it is regarded as wasteful and unnecessary, especially in the reality in which we live today where on one side certain values and ideologies are imposed on us while there is a demand of similar forms of man. Performing arts/fine arts in such a place is that much harder. In short, ambiguity and obscurity is the essence of life, of man and further, the essence of the world. Thus, “man has no answers and he will die living in a world without answers.” And for such position of man art goes on a search.
We learn about the world and life as we grow. We embrace a part of reason that is shaped by existing values. Without seeing and realizing on our own, without any reflection, we learn the structures set in place by the older generations and reality. As a result, we try to mask the reality with pre-existing concepts and images rather than to face the truth and look at the essence . With increasing information and knowledge, it is easy to confine ourselves to a simpler image of the world and objects. On the other hand, great artists are those who seek to see the world with their own eyes and speak about it despite the incompleteness. They wish to draw what they have seen and felt, and that is when they become the subject. Artists are those who see for themselves. They refuse to look at an object of the world through a given concept or knowledge, but while standing away from these, in a blank empty space, they seek to see. In reality, everything that surrounds us is a strange and unfamiliar ‘other.’ Though it is impossible for man to fully understand the other, he needs to, at the least, embrace and understand the other with which he establishes a relationship. Artists are people who have such a heart towards the other. To have such a mind is related to being faithful to one’s senses and existence in the moment he is exposed to a certain space or when seeing a particular object. It is also linked to the desire to realize personal emotions about the ‘present.’
2. Lee Jaesam painted the nature (tree) of which he took notice in his everyday life. This particular subject is simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar. At times, it creates ripples of emotions and at others, it makes a hole in the familiar world and creates an explosion. The ‘not-so-particular’ landscape he normally encountered had one day felt strange and odd to him. While difficult to understand, he sensed the power of his internal desire and stared deeply into the object and tenaciously drew it. The strangeness he feels arises from encountering the other standing before him in the present tense, from the experience of having something before his eyes. He realizes that at some point, what was familiar and usual had all of a sudden become strange. And that releases great power. An internal psychological condition generated by a particular external experience called ‘unfamiliarity.’ The artist doubts the scene and the object he sees. What he sees and knows is probably not everything. And what is perceived by the eye is not the whole world. He sees what is not perceived by man. He encounters things in his daily life that appear suddenly and unexpectedly. An irrational and mythical world had momentarily infiltrated the real world. The reality is momentarily fractured, isolated. All through out the time he spends drawing, he is continuously faced with unidentifiable questions. In the end, what he draws is not the appearance of an object but unleashes a dark portrait of his inner being. To the subject, the world is always a mystery. In Camus’ words, it’s absurd. It always escapes the language and letter we acquire. Knowledge is powerless before the world that is to come, and the objects to be born. The outer world enters his inner being and darkens it.
3. Lee Jaesam’s tree begins by realistically depicting the external object. However, it does not end by a simple imitation of the object. What is seen in the drawing is not only limited to its similarity to the object outside the image but begins there and goes even further. Formative reproduction can imply similarity, however, it is not to say that likeness ends as a simple reproduction. It seems as if it’s a portrayal of the visible world but he’s actually painting the hidden side, the inner part of the world, his inside. He attempts to paint the unfamiliarity that comes from a vivid contact with the outer world and through conventions. Thus, the moment he sees an object lost of its meaning, he solely paints it as it is. Where function and meaning no longer exist, only an image of oddness and unfamiliarity is left. From such unfamiliar image, the object is no longer an ‘object of meaning’ but the ‘subject of meaning.’ His drawing is the coincidental encounter with the object in a place void of stereotype and bias, and the encounter with another possible world from that point on. It is certainly a landscape here, of this place, but at the same time, it is an inexistent landscape. It is an odd landscape existing between the usual and unusual. It is a landscape, a world that is present but absent, one that is ‘not not there.’ Therefore it has become a strange landscape situated between reality and unreality, visual and nonvisual, objective and subjective. All objects show the surface, the skin, but the artist is one who thinks about the inner side. While a drawing sticks the skin of the object onto a given canvas, it alludes to an unseen inner side at the same time. Hence, it becomes a ‘very deep expression.’ The act of perceiving is accompanied by unfathomable and indescribable and complex emotions and memories. The artist draws to embody the perception and senses that his body has accepted. He attempts to reconstruct the momentary impressions to paint ‘it.’ To stare is an expression of desire. That desire wishes to see the inside of the object, even into the spaces that cannot be seen. And thus, it is difficult to satisfy or fulfill that desire. That is why to do Arts/Fine Arts is to repeatedly carry out what is not possible. Through it, you learn how to perceive and understand the objects in your surroundings that are familiar but unknown. A drawing is what seeks to captivate the energy and fascination.
4. Jaesam’s drawings are regarded as somewhat old realism. In appearance, they sure look like figurative drawings of literary realism. But uni-colored images covered up with charcoal particles are realistic and even somewhat surreal. The world made up of matted charcoal powder is gloomy, shady and deep beyond measure. The artist enters that darkness, that depth; and that place is a world in a different dimension than the real world. He shuts himself up and reveals his distant world of art. This fastidiousness and aseity is the axis supporting his drawings. In order to visualize, he uses immortal natural objects in solitude, such as plants, water and the moon, and entrusts himself in their hands. He obsessively seeks stern darkness, blackness with an unimaginable density as he rubs in the charcoal. Thus, Jaesam’s drawings are at times a little scary. I enjoy that density, the obsession and the temporality condensed into his drawings.
The enormous drawings draw the observers into the image. You feel as if you are in nature, and as if you are individually facing the object; and it sucks out the observer’s mind and sense. It’s difficult to escape. His drawings are also distant and strange. An atmosphere of a gloomy night, spining chills and sharp minds fill the air. The dense forest and a streak of waterfall, entangled plum tree stumps, it’s a beautiful landscape but it’s strangely unfamiliar and damp. They are bodies of nature revealed through the moonlight in the dark night but these bodies feel complete and intrinsic. They close in on you, isolated from everything else.
These lonely and self-contained objects are, in fact, the artist’s metaphor. The waterfall and moon represent yin (female) energy, and the pine tree and the plum tree are symbols representing the classical scholar. These images unexpectedly appear with the dark night as background. The skin of the object gently shining from the moonlight in the silent and lonely night shows a familiar object in a very unfamiliar manner. And he captures the shadow on the skin of the object and attractively paints it. And that is felt as an existence inhabiting a world in a different dimension than the real world we live in. Maybe that is why I’m reminded of Kim Myeongsook’s “Landcape of the Dark Forest,” or Yoon Haenam’s “The Forest Dyed in Blue.” It almost looks like a spiritual landscape, mystical or even fantasy-like. Such sentiments are further heightened by the flattened landscape by the detailed portrayal and absolute darkness. That darkness, that blackness, is resolute. It’s a space and color that absorbs and eats up everything and in doing so, it instantly paralyzes the vision of the observer. It demands for something other than the retina. While it’s a cunning reproduction of the reality, it stimulates a feeling of unreality. The objects that he draws are real but quite abstract. The charcoal is material but is beyond just material and the black as well is beyond just color. We are given the impression that the property of charcoal is being objectified, and a sense of limitless color and space. Material from a plant becomes a bamboo tree and plum tree. Drawing plants as a result of the artist’s decision to burn another is a kind of revivification. The cotton cloth is also natural material. As the charcoal penetrates the cotton cloth, it expresses a deep color and fully represents the world of plants. And he draws the four gracious plants, such as the bamboo tree and the plum tree. They give off an image related to home and a traditional sense of beauty. Furthermore, they are the symbol of self-respect and ego, the emblems of the inner world. He wants to show off essential depth through absolute silence, a firm plane and minimal yet literary realism, with a Korean identity and metaphors of the inner world. The heritage and methodology of Korean art in the 70s persists and live on through his drawings.
5. Lee Jaesam’s draws trees with charcoal. He adds depth to his art by adding multiple layers in his own unique way. Charcoal results from burning wood and through the charcoal, the tree is reincarnated. Nature is reincarnated into nature, and dead nature imitates living nature. The artist gains depth in his charcoal by his unique ways. The drawing is quite realistic but paradoxically becomes a very abstract depiction. A bulky, strong and solid tree is intensely revealed in the ink-black background made of layers and layers of charcoal on cotton cloth. Rather than a reproduction of bamboo tree, plum tree or water, it looks like the artist is attempting to make visual the hidden moonlight, the natural world filled with yin energy, fantasy and the instance of thick tension saturated with a profound and mysterious energy. The, the atmosphere of fantasy, and the strange aura is what is being exuded from the Korean landscape seen through Jaesam’s eyes; and that’s what he sees and feels in the existence of this land’s plants, trees and water. An imagery of an energy, scent or feeling that can be called Korean.
A bulky, strong and solid tree is intensely revealed in the ink-black background. The pine tree and plum trees are very old. At times, water and waterfalls make appearance. These are common materials in traditional painting that “ideologizes” Confucian text. The tree and water push away the darkness and shine. A figure shining in the moonlight with dignity. Though the moon is absent in the drawing, the shape embraces the moon giving off its light straight-out. In that way, the tree and water absorb all the moonlight, wanting to conceive something. When women wanted to conceive, our ancestors would make the women stand in the moonlight. A woman’s menstruation cycle coincides with the moon cycle. And that is why the moon symbolizes the female, yin. In Confucianism, the moon’s cold energy symbolizes the virtues of a nobleman as well as pure fidelity. The moon’s bright light symbolizes the power of purification. The energy from the moonlight was perceived as being magical.
Lee Jaesam drew trees surrounded by hanging shadows that took in the moonlight. He drew meticulously and rigorously. In order to display the moonlight, he finished his drawing with a firm darkness in the background. In order to make visible the power of the invisible moonlight, he drew the branches branching off and the water falling vertically. The trees and water shed light on the moment filled with vitality in the darkness. (Actually, it’s the not water that is drawn but because he draws the rock, the empty spaces appear as if it is water. Technically speaking, it can be said that the water is actually a drawing of the rock). The bamboo, plum and water that the artist draws, rather than them being a reproduction of the objects, it is an attempt to make visible the hidden moonlight, the natural world filled with yin energy, fantasy and the instance of thick tension saturated with a profound and mysterious energy. The atmosphere of fantasy, and the strange aura being exuded from the Korean landscape, is it not what is seen through Jaesam’s eyes? And is it not what he sees and feels in the existence of this land’s plants, trees and water? An imagery of an energy, scent or feeling that can be called Korean. He did not only need the pine tree, plum tree or water to depend traditional cultural codes like the four gracious plants and the ten traditional symbols of longevity. Wouldn’t he have wanted to draw the energy from the objects, and the odd repatriation of the invisible, and the odd memories of images shared by all Koreans? Tradition is reincarnated through such memories. They emerge as concrete matter and object. Even if they haven’t experienced that period or learned about it, everything concealed in this land that made up the lives of our ancestors are naturally discovered by the living. As such, cultural DNA is not inherited through the blood within our body, but can be inherited through contact with objects and landscape outside our body. Cultural identity is strengthened through memories of experience of objects and landscapes. Just as Lee O-young expressed, the cultural DNA of Korean have been made through the many objects, tools and landscapes that Koreans encountered in their lives and it continues to be inherited in such a way. Likewise, Jaesam ruminates on the memories of images of the landscape that he has encountered to draw. While it is difficult to describe that energy, if you are Korean, if you have inherited that cultural DNA, you will realize. Whether that can be made visible, or already has been, is difficult to conclude. But what is certain is that when standing before his drawing, you will feel exposed to a strange energy.
6. For Jaesam, drawing is about discovering our cultural hieroglyphs that have been buried in our unconscious minds or had been lost by looking at the plum tree, bamboo or waterfall, and deciphering them. That he has drawn the bamboo, plum tree, pine tree and water all this time was a conscious act related to a Korean landscape and traditional aesthetic sense. For a long time, he has toured all over Korea in search for all the pine trees and plum trees. By observing the wondrous and mysterious old trees, he wanted to acquire them and the land and spaces in which they stood. His journey overlaps with that Sohn Jangsup who went on a search for sacred trees or with that of Bae Byeongwoo who went on a search for Gyeongju pine trees and Chonmyo. They all exhibit the concrete and familiar pine tree but their works were not limited to a mere reproduction but of the object but a capturing of the energy emitted by the object.
He seeks to draw the mysterious energy of the sacred tree, over a few hundreds of years old. The black charcoal suits him well. The drawing made on cotton cloth having trees and nature as material are in harmony. He mixes the charcoal and pushes it onto the cotton cloth, determined. And he gains a black depth through multiple layering. He built up the charcoal. Absolute darkness of the absence of light unfolds like a curtain. The blackness is considerate of showing the moonlight. With the dark background, the sharp tree, water and waterfall are revealed. There is a cold, and stern silence. A little bit of imperfection might have been tolerable; I feel a lack of resonance. It looks to clean, accurate and perfect. It’s probably his character. There is an autistic, lonely and stern smell. He looks to plants. He listens to the teachings of the plants. Why had Chosun’s scholars, all in all, erase body of the animal and wish to become plants? Why did they seek to become an orchid or a bamboo tree, a rock or water? Why did they want to become nature?
Anyhow, whatever the object of his drawing is, he says he can keep drawing what any Korean would recognize as Korean. He expects however insignificant the landscape, when it passes through his stroke, that Koreans’ sincerity will be felt. Whatever he draws, what all Koreans can feel is what he wants to draw. All in all, he seeks to look for how the nature should be perceived and pile up charcoal powder, and draw the details of our true nature pushing deep into the image.
7. Drawing deals with the relationship between the artist’s body and the outside world/object. The artist sees and feels the outer world through his given body. To transfer this over to a screen is what drawing is. Therefore, drawing involves delicate and fine conditions, physical conditions. Our body senses as it moves. Drawing, in the end, is a fruit of philosophical labor in which his ideologies and symbols of the world are integrated through the body’s nervous tissues that are the means of production. Fine arts is art that can most concretely treat man’s issues of perception. Fine arts is a genre in which you can dream of all variations of perception and senses, where you can put yourself as object of reflection. Furthermore, it is an art in which you can treat perceptual and political reflective contents of mediums themselves, such as movies and photographs, of other domains of art. The identity of modern art is about the perceptual and sensual reflective thinking. It refers to a form of ‘perceptual political science’, a political science of genre. It is through the body (sense, sensitivity) that humans perceive the world and the formation of new body is to pave the way for diversity in world perception. There are upcoming paintings expected on this topic. Many artists who are examining the possibility of today’s paintings/tableau from different angles are coming to the fore and through them, a renewed discussion on planes, paintings and figures are being extended. Once again, various discussions and research on design, representation painting, surreal paintings and etc. are actively rising. And at the center, there is Jaesam’s charcoal painting.
“Horror of space and black space of emptiness”
I do not fix the nature. The nature guides me .You can not make masterpiece by drawing from the flat without any modification of one another. Only principle in art is you draw what you see. There are no tricks to idealize the nature. Seeing what is out there, that is what matters the most. - Rodin
The traditional method of painting is reappearance. The theory of reappearance which is copying the sensible outlook of the world is supported by the imitation theory and we called this naturalism. On the other words the fundamental of the painting is suggesting the most similarities of sensible of nature, and imitating the nature itself. However is it all just about imitating the nature? It is not so. The way of expressing sensuous, physical appearance of nature can not be the purpose of the painting because it can only be justified by implying the character of natures itself. Now how can you bring out a character of natures to the sensible surface?
Rodin wants to see the physical appearance of nature exactly and Alberto wants to copy the most momentary side of nature, and Heidegger wants to see the art as a being rather than asking about being itself. What Rodin wanted to claim was we have to see through the physical appearance(skin) and see what lies inside of the structure of the nature(muscle).
Alberto’s idea of momentary side of the nature is when the character of the nature itself passes through the physical appearance of the nature and intercepts each other that are the moment we need to capture. For Heidegger being itself is an independent world and when that world appears of the surface of sensuous reality it is inevitable to form a language of strange, exotic things. In the mean time this opening of the world supposed to be familiar since it is outcome among the fierce interaction and sympathy of subjects.
All paintings, especially the reappearance of nature ones are results of unrefined and familiar two different side of the language, on the other words it comes from ambivalence structure. Like people, animal, tree, and forest Lee Jae sam’s painting comes from the theory of reappearance, which he implies the ingenuous of the nature itself by using the sensuous subjects.
He paints the animals and people with only charcoal. These paintings of his with very simple material don’t appear to be that simple. His paintings give out the impression of reality which makes you feel like you can grab the subjects in the paintings.
However he named all his works “beyond there” even though these are all the exact reappearance of the nature. This denies the objectiveness of sensuous, realistic description of paintings itself. For this reason the title of his work contradicts the realistic expression of the painting. Why is the title “beyond there “instead of being “there” or “that place”?
This obviously means he wants us to see what lies beyond the canvas where we can’t see. And it also implies the invisible parts in the visible meaning of the painting. When ‘there’ and ‘that place’ are only for the sensuous surface of the new outlook ‘beyond there’ is another chapter of reality beyond the subjects, world, and objects. The artist is aiming for the perfect one spot where reality, nature of the subjects, and subjects itself could land. Just like this the artist shows traditional, physical reappearance of paintings but in fact he is seeking out for the no sensible reality from beyond. From these paintings he is trying to rise above from reality instead of settled in one.
Then what makes him to go from ‘there’ to ‘beyond there’ trying to cross over from visible world? His paintings looks exactly real when you look close but there are difference from actual things. In spite of his realistic description of the subjects black and white colors of two dimensional paintings make them very monotonous and even abstinence. And what makes it more unrealistic is his so called principle of front view in every subject. By principle of front view doesn’t literally means you can see only front, it is more of the flexible way to prove subject’s reality.
On the other words when all the characters in his paintings pose in different angles they look dull, stiff, and even strict. Just like you would see in the ID pictures, their personality can’t pass through the canvas. Character’s subjective personality is confined in its own objective information and frame of the materials.
Furthermore all the characters are missing the background. When all the objects are work\-ing together cardinality in reality, backgrounds are inseparable from the objects. And by him removing the background from the picture makes his paintings abstract.
With the motive that is separated from all the relations he emphasizes the unreality and it changes sensuous, re-created canvas into abstract one. This almost looks like another version of reductionism involving tautological ‘what you see you see’ that has been resolved with re-created technique. In this term the artist is trying to show the nature of painting itself not the character of objects.
Nonetheless you cannot make an assertion about that yet. Because Lee Jae sam’s works also trying to make a reality shows on the canvas as much as he makes it abstracted. Deleted backgrounds could have been set up for blank space which is to imply character’s invisible personality. And monotonous, stillness of the picture could also have been another set up to focus on the objects themselves only. After all with the theme ‘beyond there’ he is trying to illustrate the nature of objects and picture both. By the tension between two foreign objects interacting close ends up supporting his works.
Landscapes of Lee Jae sam with lotus leaf, pine forest, corn on the cob, bamboo for\-est, waterfall, and a Japanese apricot tree have little different impression than the one with people in it. One of the distinctive characteristic happens when the subjects move to the land\-scapes; it expands and fills the canvas with the pictures. These pictures which are reminder of the techniques of either the agoraphobia or close shot emphasize the reality as well as the unreality impression.
In another words the distance between subjects have been narrow it down but this looks more expended in reality. And these techniques assimilate you with the pictures. Just like this total sensible, visible objects turns into the something that is not sensible, re-created with invisible implication.
All of sudden you can see the space between the bamboo forest and the space opens up among the entire Japanese apricot tree. And wind starts to blow in between those spaces. The artist wants to encapsulate this wind. The wind that can not reveal itself for it can only appear through the way of sensible subjects and he calls this negativity. This negativity doesn’t have certain shape but it can make a sensible shape with the sunshine.
In the same way wind doesn’t have its own shape but it can imply its presence by sensible shape of nature. Another example of invisible subjects besides wind is moon. There is no actual moon on the painting but he is implying its presence with certain images in the darkness. In this manner pictures on the canvas are moving through the visible subjects to the ones that are invisible.
Wind, moonlight, invisible objects, negativity, and space between the objects where there is no rigid lines, darkness, and blank space, these are all his ideas of grasping the boundaries between them which is his extraordinary project. However his projects do not mean an escape from reality by desertion or corruption of visible meanings. His projects are more persuasive for the fact that they are rather seeking and embracing for transcendence in the sensible reality.
Lee Jae sam had been drawing his works only with charcoal. From this we can almost feel his moral self consciousness, which is his idea of retuning to the very fundamental of painting. Charcoal has the quality to absorb all the light around it and makes it look very rich and deep as if it has water inside of it. Artist Lee Jae sam calls his charcoal ‘black jelly’ because the mono tones of charcoal has in fact contains various colors on the inside. From the stillness of darkness the image of charcoals brings healing, cleansing power upon us just like sound rest itself.
저 너머에는 무엇이 있을까?
밤하늘에 달을 그려보자. 어떻게 그리는 것이 좋을까? 선으로 달 모양을 그려놓고 먹물로 달빛을 칠하려니 어쩐지 조금 싱겁다. 차라리 구름을 드리워 붓이 닿지 않은 부분으로 달빛이 발하도록 하는 것(烘雲拓月)은 어떨까. 굳이 말하지 않아도 전달되는 것이 있고, 그리지 않아도 보이는 것이 있으니 그윽한 맛이 있다. 이러한 멋을 우리는 이재삼의 작품에서도 어렵지 않게 느껴볼 수 있다. 그는 자신을 스스로 ‘예술장인(藝術匠人)’이라고 부른다. 장인이라고 하기에는 예술가적 성향이 묻어나질 않고, 전업화가라고 하기엔 장인적 기운이 베어나질 않았기 때문일 것이다. 우리가 그에게서 주목할 것은 작가를 심미적 세계로 인도하는 ‘숲’이라는 소재와 그를 장인의 길로 들어서게 했던 ‘목탄’이란 재료이다.
목탄(Charcoal)은 정밀성과 내구성이 부족하여 회화보다는 소묘 또는 밑그림과 같은 기초 드로잉에 쓰이는 재료였다. 하지만 그는 십여 년 동안 끊임없는 실험을 거듭하여 목탄화를 회화로 승격시킨 장본인이다. 과연 무엇이 그를 목탄에 전념하도록 했을까? 작가는 말한다. 목탄은 검은 ‘색’이 아닌 검은 ‘공간’이라고. 아크릴이나 유화가 빛을 반사함으로써 색을 발하는데, 목탄은 빛을 흡수함으로써 블랙홀과 같은 검은 공간을 만들어낸다. 무광의 맛. 모든 것을 품어낼 것만 같은 무한한 공간 속에서 그는 모성(母性)을 연상했을지 모를 일이다. 또한 어떤 의미에서 그에게 목탄은 제법 신성한 도구이다. 본래 목탄이란 나무를 연소시켜 얻은 것이지만, 다시금 목탄으로 나무를 재현하니 숲의 영혼을 환생시키는 것이 아니겠는가.
간혹 그를 대나무를 그리는 작가로 오인하는 사람들이 있다. 하지만 그는 말한다. 이번 전시가 대나무를 보여주는 마지막 전시가 될 것이라고. 실제로 그는 이번 전시를 통해서 처음으로 매화를 선보였다. 그리고 앞으로는 소나무도 보여줄 생각이라고 한다. 소나무, 대나무, 매화는 한겨울 세찬 바람과 혹독한 추위 속에서도 본연의 색을 잃지 않는다는 세 친구가 아니던가. 비록 그가 세한삼우(歲寒三友)라는 동양화 소재를 빌어 왔지만 곧바로 ‘선비정신’을 연상한다면 조금은 성급한 감이 있다. 그보다 먼저, 작품의 제목을 살펴보자. 저 너머(beyond there). 모든 작품의 제목이 똑같다. 사실 그의 작업을 이해하기 위해서 빼놓을 수 없는 것이 바로 이 제목이다. 십여 년이 넘도록 모든 작품의 제목을 하나같이 ‘저 너머’라고 붙이는 작가의 의도가 궁금하지 않을 수 없다. 그러자 그는 말한다. 자신이 주목하는 것은 사물 그 자체가 아니라 사물과 사물 사이, 그 경계가 만들어내는 빈 공간이라고.
손가락으로 달을 가리키는데 달은 보지 않고 손가락 끝만 본다면 안타까운 일이다. 달을 봤으면 손가락은 잊어야 하는 법. 결국 대나무 숲을 통해서 그가 보여주고 싶은 것은 대나무가 아니라, 대숲 사이로 보일 듯 말 듯한 검은 공간이다. 그 검은 여백 속에 그가 보여주고 싶은 혹은 그가 보고 싶은 비경(秘境)이 숨어있는 것이다. 대나무 숲. 그 사이로 검은 바람이 불어온다. 마치 숲의 영혼처럼. 저기 바람이 머무는 대나무 숲 사이, 저 너머에는 무엇이 있을까?
- 권혁주(아트싸이드 큐레이터)
공간 공포와 검은 여백
나는 자연을 수정하지 않는다. 자연은 나를 인도해준다.
어떤 존재든 변경하는 일이 없이 그대로 모사하기만 한다면 걸작을 낳을 수 있다.
예술의 유일한 원리는 눈에 보이는 것을 모사하는 것이다.
자연을 미화하는 비결 따위는 없다. 정확하게 보는 것만이 문제가 된다.
회화의 가장 정통적인 문법은 단연 재현일 것이다. 세계의 감각적인 지평을 사실적으로 모사하는 재현의 논리는 모방론에 의해 지지되며, 이는 대개 자연주의로서 현상한다. 즉, 자연을 모방하는 것, 자연의 감각적 닮은꼴을 제안하는 것이야말로 회화의 가장 기본이라는 거다. 그렇다면 단순히 자연의 외형을 충실히 모사하기만 하면 되는가. 그렇지는 않다. 자연의 감각적 닮은꼴을 재현하는 태도는 그 자체가 목적일 수는 없으며, 이로 인해 자연의 본성이 암시되고 상기되는 한에서만 정당화될 수 있다. 그렇다면 자연의 본성을 어떻게 감각적 표층 위로 끄집어낼 수 있을 것인가.
로댕은 자연을 정확하게 볼 것을 주문하고, 알베르티는 자연의 가장 순간적인 양상을 모방할 것을 주문하고, 하이데거는 존재자(자연의 감각적 형상)가 아닌 존재 자체(자연의 본성)를 불러낼 것을 주문한다. 로댕의 주문은 아마도 자연의 감각적 외상(피부)을 투과해서 그 이면에 놓여진 자연의 구조(근육)를 꿰뚫어보라는 말일 것이다. 그리고 알베르티가 주문하는 자연의 가장 순간적인 양상이란 자연의 본성이 자연의 감각적 외피를 뚫고 그 표층 위로 떠올려진 순간에 주목함으로써, 자연의 본성과 자연의 외상이 일치되는 순간을 포착하라는 말일 것이다. 그런가하면 하이데거의 존재 자체란 그대로 하나의 자족적인 세계이며, 그 세계가 감각적 표층 위로 떠오를 땐 필연적으로 낯설고 이질적인 언어의 형태로써 어필된다. 한편으로 그 세계란 주체와의 치열한 상호작용과 공감의 과정 끝에 열린 것임으로 친숙한 것이지 않으면 안 된다. 이처럼 회화는, 특히 재현적인 회화는 생경하면서도(미처 의미화 되기 이전의 존재를 드러내는) 친근한(고향과 원형 등 상실한 것들을 상기시켜주는) 언어의 이중적인 결과, 즉 그 양가적인 구조에 의해서 견인된다.
인물과 동물 그리고 나무나 숲 등의 자연을 소재로 한 이재삼의 회화는 이러한 재현적인 논리에 의해 견인되며, 자연의 감각적인 형상을 매개로 하여 그 이면의 비감각적인 자연의 본성을 암시하고 드러낸다.
인물과 동물을 소재로 한 그림들. 이재삼은 목탄 하나로 그림을 그린다. 이 단순한 재료로써 그려진 그의 그림은 그러나 결코 단순하지가 않다. 그가 그린 인물과 동물들은 마치 그 실체가 손에 잡힐 듯 감각적이고 사실적인 인상을 준다.
그러나 자연을 충실하게 재현해놓은 이 일련의 그림들에다 작가는 하나같이 ‘저 너머’라는 의외의 제목을 붙인다. ‘저 너머’라니. 이는 화면에 드러나 보이는 감각적이고 사실적인 묘사가 가지고 있는 대상성을 스스로 부정하는 것이 아닌가. 이처럼 그림에서의 감각적 닮은꼴이 ‘저 너머’라는 제목과 부닥친다. 왜 ‘저기’ 혹은 ‘저곳’이 아닌 ‘저 너머’인가. 이는 분명 그림 저편의 미처 그려지지 않은 부분을 봐달라는 주문일 테고, 그림의 가시적인 영역이 암시하고 상기시켜주는 비가시적인 영역을 봐달라는 주문일 것이다. 저기 혹은 저곳이 사물, 세계, 대상의 감각적 표면이 전개되는 지평이라면, 저 너머는 그 표면을 넘어 사물, 세계, 대상의 실체가 드러나 보이는 장이다. 작가는 다름 아닌 사물의 실체, 사물의 본성, 사물의 자기다움이 정박해 있을 만한 한 지점을 겨냥하고 있는 것이다. 이처럼 작가의 그림은 외관상 전통적인 재현회화의 한 전형을 보여주고 있으면서도, 사실은 감각적 현실 저 너머에 있는 비감각적 현실을 지향하고 있다. 이로써 현실에 정박하는 대신에 현실로부터의 초월을 감행하고 있는 것이다.
그렇다면 무엇이 이재삼의 회화로 하여금 저곳(그림의 가시적인 영역)에서 저 너머(그림의 비가시적인 영역)를 넘보게 하며, 또한 실제로도 가시적인 세계를 넘어서게 하는가. 실제처럼 보이는 작가의 그림은 사실 여러 면에서 실제와는 다르다. 사실적인 묘사에도 불구하고 평면적이며, 흑백의 모노톤으로 환원된 색채는 단순하다 못해 금욕적이기 조차 하다. 동물 그림이나 특히 인물화에 반영된 소위 정면성의 법칙 역시 이러한 비현실성을 더한다.
여기서 정면성의 법칙이란 단순히 대상의 정면 시점을 포착한 형식적 개념이기보다는, 사실상의 증명(성)을 의미하는 상대적으로 더 유기적인 개념이다. 즉 인물들은 정면은 물론이거니와 측면포즈를 취하는 등 그 시점에 변화를 꾀할 때마저 무표정하고 경직돼 있으며 심지어는 엄격해보이기조차 하다. 마치 증명사진에서처럼 인물의 인격이 그림의 표면 위로 뚫고 나오지 못한다. 주관적인 인격이 객관적인 정보나 소재의 틀 속에 갇혀 있는 것이다(여기서 작가의 시점은 공감적 시점이기보다는 관찰자적 시점에 가깝다). 나아가 인물은 배경마저도 결여하고 있다. 즉 실제의 사물현상은 자기와는 다른 이질적인 사물들 간의 유기적인 관계 속에 놓여져 있기 마련이며, 이때 사물은 그 배경과 분리할 수 없는 형태로서 현상한다. 이러한 배경화면을 삭제함으로써 작가는 그림을 추상화한다. 관계의 망으로부터 동떨어진 모티브로써 비현실성을 강조하고, 감각적이고 재현적인 화면을 추상적인 화면으로 변질시켜 놓는다.
이는 일견 ‘당신이 보는 것이 보는 것’(프랭크 스텔라)이라는 동어반복적인 전언으로 대변되는 모더니즘적 환원주의를 재현화법의 논리로 풀어낸 다른 한 버전으로까지 비친다. 이런 논지에서 보자면, 작가가 감각적 사물현상 저 너머를 통해 보여주고자 하는 것은 사물의 본성(인격)이 아니라 그림의 본성(그림은 그림일 뿐이라는)이 아닌가 싶다.
그러나 꼭 그렇다고 단언할 수는 없다. 이재삼의 그림은 실제를 추상화하는 만큼이나 실제를 현실화하기도 한다. 삭제된 배경화면은 일종의 여백으로 설정된 것일 수 있으며, 이는 그대로 인물의 비가시적인 인격을 암시하는 공간일 수도 있다. 정적이고 단조로운 화면 역시 온전히 인물 그 자체, 인격 그 자체에 스포트라이트를 주기 위한 고도의 전략 내지는 장치일 수도 있다. 결국 ‘저 너머’란 주제의식으로써 작가는 사물의 본성과 그림의 본성, 이 둘 다를 겨냥하고 있는 것이다. 이 이질적인 두 지층이 긴밀하게 상호 작용하는 과정에서 비롯된 긴장감이 작가의 그림을 지지하고 있다.
자연 풍경을 대상화한 그림들. 이재삼은 연잎과 송림, 옥수숫대와 대나무 숲, 폭포와 매화(홍매와 백매) 등의 자연 소재를 대상화해서 일련의 그림들을 그리는데, 이는 인물과 동물을 소재로 한 그림들과는 그 인상이 사뭇 다르다. 그 두드러진 특징은 소재가 자연풍경으로 옮아오면서 화면이 현저하게 확대된 점과, 화면을 가득 채워 그린다는 점을 들 수 있다. 일종의 공간공포(빌헬름 보링어)나 사진에서의 클로즈업 기법을 연상시키는 이들 그림은 현실감을 강조해주기도 하고, 비현실적인 인상을 강화하기도 한다. 즉 모티브와의 시각적인 거리는 좁혀진(화면에 꽉 찬 모티브는 마치 숲 속 한가운데에 들어와 있는 듯한 느낌을 준다) 반면에, 현실적인 거리감은 오히려 더 증대된 느낌이다. 그리고 이것이 일종의 심리적인 동화현상으로까지 확장된다.
이처럼 감각적이고 재현적인 그리고 가시적인 대상이 비감각적이고 비재현적인 그리고 비가시적인 그 무엇인가를 지시하고 암시하는 듯한 상징으로 전이된다. 불현듯 대나무 숲 뒤쪽으로 대나무와 대나무간의 사이공간이 드러나 보이고, 매화나무의 가지와 가지 사이에 여백이 열린다. 그리고 그 사이공간과 여백으로 바람이 분다. 작가는 다름 아닌 이 바람을 형상화하고 있는 것이다. 스스로는 자신을 증명할 수 없는, 감각적 형상을 통해서만 비로소 그 실체를 드러내는 바람을 작가는 음기라고 부른다. 여기서 음기 자체는 정해진 형태가 따로 없는 가변적인 존재성을 지니지만, 양기에 의해 감각적인 형상을 덧입을 수 있다. 마찬가지로 바람은 그 정해진 형태가 따로 없지만, 이는 감각적인 형상을 통해 암시될 수 있다.
그리고 바람과 더불어 이러한 비가시적 실체로서 달을 들 수 있다. 즉 작가의 그림에 달이 그려져 있지는 않지만, 칠흑 같은 어둠 위로 그 형체를 드러내 보이는 이미지들로써 달빛의 실체가 암시되고 있는 것이다. 이렇듯 화면은 그려진 그림을 경유하여 그려지지 않은 그림, 암시적인 그림에로 가 닿는다. 바람과 달빛, 미처 그려지지 않은 어둠 속 정경이 품고 있는 음기, 사물의 고유한 형상이 허물어지고 지워지는 사물과 사물 사이, 그 어둠, 그 여백, 그 경계를 붙잡으려는 작가의 기획은 일종의 초월적 기획과 통한다. 그렇다고 작가의 이 기획이 감각적 형상의 부정이나 폐기를 통한 현실로부터의 일탈을 의미하지는 않는다. 그러기는커녕 오히려 감각적 지평 속에서의 초월을 지향하고, 감각적 사물현상을 끌어안는 식의 초월을 겨냥한다는 점에서 더 설득력을 획득한다.
이재삼은 이 모든 그림을 달랑 목탄 하나로만 그린다. 이로부터 회화의 기본이나 그 본질에로의 회귀 또는 환원과 함께 일종의 도덕적인 자의식(그 자체 금욕주의로 부를 수 있을 만한)마저 느껴진다. 목탄은 그 자체 빛을 흡수하는 성질이 있어서 마치 그 안에 물을 머금고 있는 것 같은 깊고 짙은 색조(색감)를 가능하게 한다(이에 반해 흑연은 빛을 내뱉는 성질이 있어서 마치 빛을 받아 번쩍거리는 것 같은 금속성의 표면질감이 느껴진다). 실제로도 작가는 목탄을 검묵이라고 부르는데, 아마도 단색처럼 보이는 목탄의 색감이 실은 그 이면에서 수많은 색의 밸류를 함축하고 있음을 뜻할 것이다. 어둠의 정적으로부터 밀어 올려진 이들 이미지들은 밤이 내재하고 있는, 그 자체 휴식과도 통하는 정화력과 치유력을 불러일으킨다.