Art Review, Bong Tae Kim, California Painter, Color, Hue, International, Korea, Korean American Art, LA Artcore, Los Angeles, Los Angeles Abstract Painting, Los Angeles Painting, Lydia Takeshita, Pasadena, Southern California Painting
This catalog essay was prepared for the 1991 solo exhibition of Young Sun Bai at the well-known and highly celebrated alternative gallery L.A. Artcore. The show was curated by the gallery founder and director Lydia Takeshita and the printmaker Bong Tae Kim.
As if they were gems found in an opened drawer, the colorful arrangements of irregular squares, rectangles and circles in Young Sun Bai’s recent artworks are set against an oxidized background of darkly rusted hues. These mixed media pieces betray an awakening artistic sensibility, which synthesizes some of the traditions of modern abstract and figurative painting. Adding to this fine mixture is a formal and structural vitality revealed by her placement of architectural components together with calligraphic forms, which in some instances recall ornamental ironwork, Navajo hogans, steel girders, teacups, or primitive tools. Other times, she draws in a vocabulary of organic forms alluding to sea life, such as fish, shell fish and mollusks, as well as snake rattles or human forms.
Young-Sun Bai’s use of color adds immeasurably to the charm already established by the tightly rendered structures. Without fear she employs bold reds, vivid yellows, mysterious greens and rich blues. Often she’ll join these volleys of color with pockets of black or crusty whites.
In Ireland’s Burren region, a complicated variety of flora grows among the rockiest and most forbidding terrain. On small ledges between rocks and boulders, bright blooms take hold and flourish in stunning contrast to the inhospitable grey sky, the jagged ledges and blistering wind. What a will to live these wild flowers must have to bloom and grow. Perhaps, these harsh circumstances contribute to such wealth, or at least to the delightful surprise for the unsuspecting viewer. Astonishingly, such beauty can be nurtured in remote and difficult conditions as well as in the perfectly controlled systems of a greenhouse garden.
Recently the crucible from which many noted artists are formed has been the “hothouses” of our art and design institutes, colleges and universities. Upon completion of undergraduate and graduate work in the arts, these talents often seek the stimulating environment of an arts-supporting community and lifestyle such as the “grand tour” we have come to expect in New York’s Soho, Tribeca and Greenwich Village, or on the West Coast, in Los Angeles, Venice and San Francisco. These environments cultivate and protect the artistic individual. It is, therefore, always startling when an artist of the merit of Young-Sun Bai appears from an unusual or remote context. Currently, and happily, we are seeing more artists emerge whose background and experience has been an alternative to the Art School-to-Manhattan Express.
Often, when an artist emerges from a remote venue, or alternative social setting, rather than producing the trending formal mainstreamed stuff, which predictably comes into being in response to cosmopolitan areas where individual artistic ideas get comingled with communal thinking. Before long, an artist tends to mimic the solutions of others. And, the communal consciousness. Then, when we finally do encounter artwork demonstrating independence, intelligence plus rare commitment, we should be charmed.
Young-Sun Bai is one of the exceptional new breeds of artists whose work is born of the collective experience of being an outsider moving in. Developing, possibly naively at first, an artistic vocabulary of shapes, colors, marks and patterns, her works offer a distinctive and refreshing vision. Raised in Korea, Young-Sun Bai studied at the Seoul High School of Music and Art, the College of Fine Arts at Seoul National University. After settling in Pasadena around 1961, she raised a family, became President of the P.T.A. at the Korean Language School, President of the Korean Artists’ Association, Chairwoman of Fund Raising Committee for music events for the Crossroad School for Arts and Sciences and recipient of the Joong Ang Daily Newspaper Mother of the Year Award. During this period of great demands, Young-Sun Bai continued to work at and refine her art.
These wonderful and refreshing credentials bring with them a body of work and lifestyle, which bears rich fruit. “Art for me is a place in which one’s idea and feeling can be documented through visual language. Throughout my life, I earn wisdom that enables me to accept and respect challenges – both intuitive and imaginative.”
Using charcoal, oil and acrylic, Young-Sun Bai sees her work as a reflection of both nature’s changing patterns and surprises, and one’s personal interpretation the mysteries contained therein. Stylistically, the works range from rather brushy washes of colors accented by bright highlight, to pieces that combine muted backgrounds over which a highly composed series of forms and marks engage the viewer. The most exciting paintings are those charged with forceful energy which reflects “nature’s changing of colors by day and by season, and the force and energy of nature in which I breathe and dwell.”
My admiration for this artist’s work stems from the recognition of the inertia and momentum with which we apprehend the painted surface. Young-Sun Bai’s work holds us because of the dramatic promise and delivery of her color and form. These artworks are immediately taken by our senses, but, as is true of all painting of merit, they slowly reveal themselves. They are paintings we can go back to repeatedly, admiring some previously noted particularity or pausing to unravel a previously unseen and mysterious series of forms. Young-Sun Bai’s work has a fresh and alarming vitality. The paintings are sometimes irregular, peculiar and diversified. Imaginative and inspired, Young-Sun Bai’s new paintings are not to be missed.
William Hemmerdinger, Ph.D.
Los Angeles 1991