Bukang Kim and Emil Robinson

Standing before Morning Calm (see image, right), the eye moves from the image of the window, to the feeling of the home from which one views it, to a subtle leap in perspective: one in which the window, house, etc. disappear into the balanced dissidence of boldly placed color and calm atmospheric haze. Despite the forcefulness implied by the visible splashes of paint, the composition communicates the artist’s reverence for inner silence and maternal warmth. Space is loosely rendered, causing the third dimension therein to emerge and equally disappear. It is a beautiful depiction of the inner self.

A perceived object is one in which light reflects off of it, and is hence external to ourselves. As opposed to this, in abstraction one can claim pure inwardness, but at the risk of creating a composition divorced from a concrete relationship with the artist. Kim’s solution was to use external yet metaphorical objects so imbued with meaning (both for her and us) that they disappear, even before doing so via her rendering. The first light of the day is symbolic of enlightenment; the window is symbolic of the gateway to the soul. They both assume a secondary meaning for Kim. The morning light implies her childhood, her early years. The light in her compositions passes through windows made of rice paper, and into a space that is an actual (and imagined) Korean home. These features serve as a threshold for her passage into her interiority. In The Column , depicted loosely is a traditional column with sacred writing upon it to bless the occupants; Kim substitutes the lettering with her brushstrokes. Those strokes take on that higher sense for the painting that the writing would have for the actual household.

It is rare to encounter art that depicts objects both specific in meaning and symbolic in their representation. Morning Calm was part of a large solo show at the Arts Consortium in 1988.* The title of the show then, The Land of the Morning Calm, was derived from the English nickname for Korea. In a discussion with the artist, she explained to me that the paintings were part of a research into the aesthetic of her Korean roots: studies about the inner light—the Eastern approach, in her words—versus the rendering of external light typical of Western art. That being so, there is also the sense of loss. 1988 also marked the near-20th year of Bukang Kim’s relocation to the United States. Her windows are barred: at some point, one living abroad may feel that his or her identity and experiences in the new world have reached a point in which going back to one’s birthplace is no longer possible; changes have occurred within and without. Relationships develop; a new home has its memories; and, in her specific case, her three children: all rooted her in Cincinnati.

For these works, she returned to some of her traditional techniques, such as the use of ceramic clay in painting. She even had an actual window shipped to her from Korea as a point of departure for the series. Her tradition of using the full arm for calligraphic brush strokes appears on the canvas; to our eye they may seem oddly bold for so tender a composition. But the tenderness is precisely in her use of such strokes: they reference, like the subject matter, the home to which one cannot return, save in imagination and memory.

Emil Robinson’s Study for a London Window equally recalls a depth of tenderness, in this case that I have seldom seen in works that typify Western draftsmanship excellence. The window within the sketch is barely rendered, the grid of the panes clearly defined before a background that gently recedes. The negative space around the window (the unrendered paper) lets the graphite float delicately; its geometrical elements imply Platonic ideals while the shading brings the viewer back to a here-and-now.

I learned from the artist that while living in London with his wife (where the sketch was made) he would take walks in the early morning, seeking inspiration. Their living space was cramped. It was often shared with roommates due to financial challenges. Also, his lack of a studio there made him feel anxious. He mentioned that the composition of a shallow window appealed to him because it resulted in “compressed space” that “intensified and trapped the light in a way that I found familiar.” Not surprisingly, his creative processes—painting and sketching—released him from anxiety.

In his final oil painting of the same window he has transmitted this psychological sense of being cramped in a small space (although it is nevertheless an attractive work); but not so with the sketch. It breathes. Like Kim’s windows, these compositions function with the metaphor of the window as a gateway. Emil’s is a portal into the luminous aspect of soul, representing, perhaps, the portrait of his wife, its transcendence I find more fitting than the representational portrait of her for which he is known.

– A.C. Frabetti

Fragments of Architecture at the Sandra Small Gallery, curated by Daniel Brown, 124 W. Pike St., Covington, KY 41011. Hours: Thursday 1-7pm, Friday 1-5pm & Saturday 1-5 pm – 859.291.2345. Through Oct. 17.

*Kim’s exhibition was curated by Daniel Brown. It was part of a larger one called Kim and Kluesener: East Meets West. Daniel Brown also curated the current show, and, as full disclosure, is the current editor of AEQAI.


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