From infancy, each of us has learned a visual world of recognizable and specific shapes and colors, from clouds to waving cats’ tails, that is common to all of us but special to each of us. Somehow it all fits together, strangely or questionably at times, but inevitably. We embrace the continuity, intellectually and functionally, while at the same time questioning it. That this continuity involves profound discontinuities is central to the art of Byoung Ok Min. But the reverse may also be true. Min moves constantly toward wholeness in her paintings, always based on negotiations with disjunctions that encompass larger, increasingly complex expressions of the possibilities of conjunction.
The process takes place on several levels within and around the painting medium itself. In her work of the 1990s and early 2000s that meant dissecting the rectangular canvas itself, cutting, joining, and overlapping areas of canvas. It also meant applying acrylic paint in various ways, from dripping and spilling to overlaying and intruding colors on one another. And always the figuration persists, in bands of color that describe circles, ovals, serpentine paths, and seemingly dimensional boxes of various kinds that echo and play against the roughened rectangles of the canvases themselves.
By 2004, in paintings like MA4, the rectangle of the canvas on its stretcher is accepted as it is, the place where conflicts can be resolved. There is no longer an urgency to escape the boundaries of the field, to create jagged edges around the perimeter and rough cuts across the field. The painting withdraws slightly from the edge, creating a kind of buffer and indicating that everything is to be achieved within the painted image. As the artist has noted, she does not want the canvas to be a window, through which we see another world. It is a world in itself, subject to the resolutions of its own materiality.
In MA4, as in all the paintings between 2004 and 2007, the canvas is like arable land, where another shape of canvas has made an appearance, laminated from the top down past the center in a narrowing quadrangle that turns back up on itself. From the top of this canvas upon canvas the artist has first brushed on various colored paints. On that multitude of colors has been poured a yellowish-white field, dripped in skeins to the bottom, in which openings have been left to allow color to show through. The oranges and yellows bordering the top margins have the effect of a nimbus for a special place. Over the yellowish-white are painted three configurations: a band of blue ribbon in seven loops, a small angled box in yellow outline, and a larger shape in green outline that defines the lower right-hand corner of the painting. These shapes, including the laminated canvas, are like characters in a play that touch and echo each other in various ways, though they come from different places. There is a constant and poignant drama in understanding the formation of relationships in this unique universe.
Byoung Ok Min. Untitled MA4, 2004. Acrylic and laminated canvas on canvas, 42” x 41”.
That drama becomes more intense in Min’s paintings since 2009, in which the painted surface has pulled even farther inward from the edge of the canvas, focusing our attention more forcefully on the actions of the painting itself. S10 of 2010 is a melee of wide, mostly dark blue and white brushstrokes, over which are scripted the familiar configurations: a large dark red circle extending over much of the painting, a blue-green serpentine line running horizontally, and a box-like figure, outlined in yellow, that is mostly on the left side. Now every brushstroke is an event, a personage, engaged in individual though ultimately aggregate action. The configurations provide context for their activity, not geometric, controlling context, but something more eccentric and embracing. They seem to be opposites, but they are not; they are complementary. If the universe is expanding, it must be expanding like this.
-- Art Review by Donald Goddard © 2011
Byoung Ok Min. Untitled S10, 2010. Acrylic on canvas, 32" x 46".
Catalogue essay for exhibition at the Hakgojae Gallery, Seoul, Korea, April 20 to May 19, 2011. Byoung Ok Min has lived and exhibited her work in New York for more than 40 years.