Idly Strolling in the Space of Thought :Min Joo Kim’s Reason to Paint a Forest in 2014 -Yeon Shim Chung (Professor at Hongik University)

I. Idly Strolling


Min Joo Kim, who majored in traditional Asian art, paints the space that overlaps the world of the ideal and the world of reality in works such as The Joy of Fish (2007), Fish Paradise (2009), Humming (2011), and Dialogue Between a Fisherman and a Woodcutter (2012). The titles of her exhibitions always remind one of a series of poems or novels, and include words that refer to “The Scenery of the Mind.” Although Min Joo Kim has created a utopian space similar to fabled Peach Blossom Spring, it is not a space of ideals buried in some vague past, but the actual, real, overlapping space in which we live. Two years ago, she worked with the theme of Dialogue Between a Fisherman and a Woodcutter, a traditional dialectic argument between a fisherman and a woodcutter. Since that time, the transformation of her themes has been revealed slowly like someone strolling idly through a forest. The stroller in the picture is a woman and a philosopher. The “idleness” that Min Joo Kim paints is not a laziness, but the extended act of thinking that occurs after a “dialogue.” Painting through a process of deliberate slowness creates a space of exploration, like the drawing of a map. It does not move to the hurried rhythm of everyday life. It is a place for strolling and walking, where everything moves into slow motion. Unlike her previous works, the small motifs that appear here also serve as a guide on the voyage of thought.


Min Joo Kim uses understated colors to express the stillness of a silent forest in the Forest of Thoughts (Ink and colors on Korean paper, 138 x 200 cm). In her usage of space and color, we see an extension of what we saw in Min Joo Kim’s previous exhibitions, but the coloration is minimized, which creates more open spaces in the background. This is the space of thought or contemplation—the unoccupied space of thought that is left unfulfilled after the “dialogue.” It is the space that allows one to escape from the need to formulate an answer or a response. A woman stops working and lies down in the woods for a moment. Her body is buried in nature, and another woman stands on a ladder picking fruit. Yet another woman is lying on the ground wearing a hat with a book next to it her. She seems to be in a moment of deep thought brought on by the book she is reading. A swing and a chair sit empty in the distance, where people taking leisurely strolls could sit and relax. This is the space of the forest and the space of thought. At first glance, it seems like a place to merely have a picnic or take a break, but it is a space where we can quietly think about whatever comes to mind at any moment, and a place where the fantasy of time stops. Everything looks idle here, but it is never idle. It seems like time goes by at a snail’s pace, but it is not boring. It is a mind-numbingly sluggish and slow space, but it is also a space that allows one’s thoughts to spring forth. It is a productive space where things happen slowly yet quickly.


The paintings of The Reason to Paint a Forest (135.5 x 196.5 cm) show a forest and the numerous trees and fruits that appear in it. This painted space allows us to imagine an ambling stroll. A woman wearing a hat is converted by the trunk that she carries into a tourist strolling through the forest. Charles Baudelaire’s flâneur was a gentleman strolling through the streets of a city, watching the spectacles of capitalism and the culture of consumption. The female wanderer who appears in Kim’s paintings strolls though nature, away from the city, and slowly and idly contemplates life in a quickly changing world in her own way.


In the 2014 work, a unique method that is not seen in the previous work is conspicuous. For example, in the House of Rest, which was produced in 2012, a landscape painting is centered around a type of small apartment building that is very common in Korea. We cannot identify a specific place in this work, but we can recognize that it represents not only a type of building in our society, but also a certain type of life. Furthermore, in The Reason to Paint a Forest and Forest of Thoughts, it is clear that Kim does not represent actual trees or specific places and that similar trees appear repeatedly. The artist repeats certain motifs (such as trees and fruits) again and again in both works, which paradoxically leads one to think of a reduction in number. Thus, detailed or vague and abstract ideas create an empty space of contemplation in the painting.



II. The Ideascape of Min Joo Kim


The artist explains that she painted “not the realistic depiction, but the inner tree, the objects, the shapes, and a psychological space of [her] own.” In her work, concrete things are not expressed in their usual forms, but within a space of contemplation that represents the thoughts and mind of the artist. An “ideascape” is a landscape painting that depicts the trajectory of thoughts. Thoughts about the shapes of things become the forest, the body, the chair, and the ladder. By not composing a complete story, the artist does not feel rushed. She slowly embarks on a scenic journey and reflects, thinks, and imagines her situation. Though an ideascape is a picture of the mind that expresses the artist’s internal self, viewers can imagine what is happening in the woods, and they curiously play a game of hide-and-seek. A person half-seen in the forest seems to burst out from somewhere. Trees and tables—symbolizing intellectual labor—are expressed in contrast to nature. Waterway and An Empty Ship Filled with Moonlight, like a strolling walk through the forest, show harmony with nature.


Min Joo Kim’s paintings, which mainly use ink and colors on Korean paper, are not tied to the past nor to tradition; they exist in a middle-ground that continually encounters the present. In Kim’s work, she utilizes contemporary culture as well as the past and present. Although traditional Asian painting is based on a traditional Asian mindset, Kim’s ideas about traditional Asian painting are slightly different. The artist does not simply express the past. Instead, she unceasingly creates ideas about the present though a conceptual landscape and ideascape that reflects the mindset of her generation. Paper, ink, paint, and brush become the most appropriate medium for expressing the artist’s thoughts. Contemporary culture, in which the Internet is available 24 hours a day, forces us to constantly think, act, and exert ourselves, but Kim’s works reveal moments of non-action in a pictorial form. Her works seem to stop everything from moving and create still moments, but hidden behind the idleness, there are actually many things happening. This contradictory truth is Min Joo Kim’s “reason to paint a forest.”