Hangseop Shin, Art Critic
The act of transforming the abstract language of music into a more visible medium is fraught with challenges, in part because such transformation involves more than the transmission of a momentary impression. Only when the various elements of the composition are sensitively combined can the work be said to have artistic value.
Sungsook Hong Setton has spent a considerable amount of time depicting music with visual imagery. In 2005, at the invitation of the chamber group Ardesco, Sungsook participated in a multimedia performance, entitled Brush Voice. That event was the point of departure on a journey from traditional literati painting to a world of organic abstraction.
Sungsook’s artistic career was founded on the traditions of water-ink, calligraphy and literati painting which use rice paper, water, ink, and brush. In terms of materials, East Asian water-ink is similar to Western watercolor, but in terms of representation and mode of expression they are very different. The lines created by East Asian brushes, originally tailored for Chinese calligraphy, are very sharp and yet elegant. Such brushes are effective tools for the expression of free and spontaneous strokes on the soft surfaces of Korean rice paper.
Sungsook’s work springs from an East Asian ethos; she naturally follows a mode of expression imbued with the Daoist philosophy of wuwei, going along with the flow of one’s surroundings, free of contrivance. Sungsook’s work is at times highly simplified or abbreviated, revealing a mastery of the compositional language of East Asian art. In this way she shows an innate ability to capture the natural essence of things in her creation of original work. The brush may appear to have moved effortlessly over the paper, but in reality is the result of highly calibrated movement reflecting significant emotional control.
Naturally Sungsook’s work is not limited to the creation of lines. Splashes, blots, and gentle washes accompany these lines to enhance the techniques of abstract expression. Along with lines, broad strokes, as well as a wide array of colors are used as resources to capture the emotive and elusive nature of music. It can be argued that the brushes used by East Asian artists are some of the most effective tools to bridge the two worlds of music and art. Like silk thread, the different kinds of animal hairs constituting East Asian brushes can closely reflect the subtle emotional fluctuations of music through their delicate lines. In the same way that instrumental melodies convey worlds of experience that transcend the physical senses, the East Asian brush excels at stimulating visual imagination.
The unique characteristics of the East Asian Brush, well suited to sensitive expression, are clearly manifested in Sungsook’s brush strokes, which range from extremely controlled lines to complex lines able to evoke a sense of chaos. One can discover a wide variety of strongly emotive and sensual gestures which embrace the polarities of order and confusion, tension and release, tranquility and commotion, spontaneity and deliberateness, as well as acuity and softness.