Jongsook Kang’s two-part series Emptiness and Dreaming Desire, presented together at this solo exhibition, manifest the artist’s innermost spiritual and mundane experience undoubtedly manifesting the secret nucleus of her ceramic sculpture in the last twenty years; namely New York/Seoul cities and Eastern Philosophy. Deeply inspired by the mystical teachings of Śūnyatā of Japanese Zen Buddhism, Kang imports a reflective quality that conveys silent introspection by interweaving a nexus of gold, silver, black and copper wires throughout her pieces that faintly recall the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi but also the Korean philosophy of emptiness as fulness called bium. By so doing, she ritually metamorphosizes her objects into memory vestiges of human social networks or relationships in her beloved cities New York or Seoul. These ceramic edifices can be read in terms of the isolation felt during the Covid-19 pandemic, or in general as the loneliness of city life. Simultaneously, they can be seen as reconstructions associated with objects and mnemonic taboos – a transcended net of intertwined potentialities withdrawn from our a-priori forms of time and space – for the deceased victims of the Corona virus crisis.
Furthermore, Kang’s delicate layers of clay, which vaguely recall Seoul’s or New York’s towering skylines casually observed from across the banks of Hudson or Han Rivers, deliberately function as metaphors and concrete incorporations of Confucian ontological principles. This philosophy is combined with Daoist aesthetics in Korea to formulate ideas of the yin and yang which represents the opposing yet similar principles of dark/light, feminine/masculine, action/inaction, dark and light in cosmic harmony.
Kang skillfully handles physical and architectural space through the precise use of artificial lighting as a metaphysical duality of substantial positivity or negativity (as in in yin-yang Taegeuk philosophy). Moreover, the artist consciously transfigures her skyscraper-like constructions of square plates into imaginative comments about the ever-growing solitude of everyday life, principally experienced in global metropoles like New York or Seoul. Through her sculptures Kang also comments upon the eternal continuation of incessant change in a hectic world of constant becoming. As she laconically wrote in her artist’s statement: “in other words, my sculptures embrace the possibility of countless changes, and infinite possibilities that lead to eternity. The realization of the true colors of yin and yang, in which the eternity of light is condensed, can be said to be my own Dream-Desire”.
Many German philosophers or psychologists of 19th and 20th century Sigmund Freud for example, firmly believed that desire is the inner drive that substantially formulates every human being, while always being dynamic and tenuously alternating between objects and needs. While concurrently eternal and torturously unceasing like a strong current, desire undeniably (re)defines the unique individuality of each and every life form on the planet. Kang’s Dreaming Desire powerfully constitutes the polymorph matrix of opposing desires, in which frenetic life and spiritual emptiness or receptive yin and active yang harmoniously co-exist together despite their existential dissimilarities and internal struggles.
In the current solo exhibition at Mazlish Gallery in New York City, the soulful paintings of Loy Luo evoke timeless songs with unknown origins and infinite possibilities. The abstract artworks have the depth and strength of stone combined with the lightness of air and space. Luo not only encourages her audience to look but also to listen and move in place as they view her art. The musicality comes from Luo’s background as a musician and her notations that are painted on the canvas recount ancient songs of friendship and love. To fully experience the evershifting color, depth and space, the viewer is compelled to move from left to right and from up to down in order to grasp the dimensions described by the powerful presence of each artwork.
All of Luo’s artworks present a vast, borderless space. In this floating, gravity-free world, Luo paints intangibles with such conviction that these abstractions are made manifest. With precise, deliberate brush marks, Luo creates an alchemic surface that changes according to the ambient light. In Half Diamond Sutra, the mineral green of the ground unites the suspended marks and objects as well as the calligraphic notations scratched into the patina. In Abstract Theater A8, the sense of the self suspended in the experience of gazing towards a rosy light peppered with floating forms that are at once bird-like yet solid. The vertigo created by this tilting space is caused by a depth of field that seems to accelerate with the passage of time. In the Rune series, the sensation of different spaces is more direct: in Rune 2, the painting evokes the sunlight through trees as one gazes upwards and in the painting Rune 3, the atmospheric blue places the viewer adrift in a celestial orb.
This cartographic quality continues through to the Heart Sutra series. In these paintings, there are luminous pigments lurking beneath a calming overlay of earth colors. It is in the incising of the paint through this glowing patina that Loy Luo reveals the depth of the painting’s journey. Calligraphic symbols rain down the canvases in a constant torrent of memories evoking stories, songs and poems. Some artworks, such as Heart Sutra I, go so far as to play with the light. As the viewer moves in front of the painting, the colors shift magically from black to gold and back to black. This optical illusion reveals and obscures its own meaning, cajoling the viewer to come close and then to step away in a continual “back and forth” sensation. It is only by remaining engaged with the artworks over time does the understanding of the inscribed words, the space and the shifting colors become clear.
The most recent series of artworks, Guqin, refer to the horizontal slide guitar native to China with which Loy Luo performs her music. In Guqin I and II, Luo writes the notes of a traditional folk song on a white field. Sometimes the notes are cut off abruptly by a jagged sanguine border like an ancient wound that refuses to heal. In both paintings, the texts seem to have been incised into white marble that is at once solid yet poised to vaporize like a cloud- just as the memory of music disappears just after it is performed.
The uniting force behind all of Loy Luo’s artworks is the immense strength and space she describes with her large abstract paintings and smaller works on canvas. The alternating erasure and endurance of her mark making, the piercing luminosity of her colors and the power of implied telluric currents are all infused by Luo with a lightness of being. The inscriptions are manifested thoughts that rain down in the mind of the viewer like a half-forgotten melody as the artist presents an ancient tale, patinated with age and its accompanying palimpsests, conveying timeless instructions on how to love and live.
Loy Luo at Mazlish Gallery, 98 Mott Street, #600A, NYC N.Y. 10013 • 917-373-4550 • www.mazlishgallery.com
With colorful, gestural abstract forms, exuberantly captured through diverse emotions, conceptual word-games and expressive brushstrokes, Ariadne Vitastali’s paintings are a unique evolution of the visual tradition of the Northwest School Abstraction. Full of spontaneous markings of color tones with melodic lines as seen in Abstraction Lyrique, or automatist subconscious gestures, similar to Action Painting and finally gentle calligraphic movements reminiscent of the techniques of the American painter Mark Tobey, her neo-expressionist images can be formally compared to the radical experiments of the Dutch-American painter Willem de Kooning.
Willem de Kooning believed about his abstract painting that «It’s really absurd to make an image, like a human image, with paint, today, when you think about it…. But then all of a sudden it was even more absurd not to do it. … It [painting Woman, Ι] did one thing for me: it eliminated composition, arrangement, relationships, light – I put it in the center of the canvas because there was no reason to put it a bit on the side. So, I thought I might as well stick to the idea that it’s got two eyes, a nose and mouth and neck.». Artist statements can sometimes be misleading in that, out of a desire to control their public image artists sometimes overstate or exaggerate their statements.
Thus, one can safely assume that de Kooning’s work and by extension Vitastali’s were very meticulously planned, whilst both artists precisely considered the formal aspects of their compositions before their artistic execution in order to create a paradoxical sort of accidental perfection. Morphologically this can be confirmed by a careful examination of their artworks. De Kooning saved and cut-out various images of women from popular presses, something that demonstrates forethought and planning, while their placement also illustrates pre-planning and strategy as also Vitastali’s carefully chosen compositional designs. In fact, Vitastali’s compositions are often diagonally situated causing the eye to be active according to Expressionist principles.
Although Vitastali’s recent works are abstract, her oeuvre straddles the categories between abstract and abstracted, in that her non-relational images maintain some recognizable motifs. As seen in several 2022-2023 Untitled paintings, the artist uses abstracted modes in order to treat subjects with a feminist bent while depicting mythological heroines. One such painting is Untitled III, 2023 -wherein a figure is seen tumbling backwards into a chasm-that can be read in terms of the Demeter legend. When Persephone, her daughter was abducted by Hades the God of the underworld, Demeter went to Hades to seek her out, and her absence caused a famine on earth. To Vitastali’s predecessors -the American Abstract Expressionists- myth was also important informing the work of William Baziotes, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko. These artists including Vitastali, used a semi-representational or abstracted style in their early careers later becoming increasingly abstract.
The term “abstract” and its varying degrees, carries a whole range of associations and descriptions. German-born American artist and museum founder, Hilla von Rebay, used the term gegenstandlos(to describe her abstract painting), which American artists later mistranslated as “object less painting.” Rebay who associated her visual production with “pure” music, like Kandinsky, believed that art should be externalized from the inner cosmos of the artist and not from a simple abstraction of external nature. This particular idea paradoxically already existed in the Christian aesthetics of the Middle Ages and Scholasticism and was quite widespread until the Renaissance and Mannerism. The artist-craftsman was not supposed to simply copy, or mimic the material world, but instead to reflect within his inner psyche, the divine “ideas” that constitute a higher dimension than world of phenomena or changing space-time.
Erwin Panofsky in his book Idea: A Concept in Art Theory, specifically wrote that the work of art “far from being merely derived from the creations of nature and transferred to the work of art by a simple act of copying, lives in the mind of the artist himself and is directly translated by him into matter.”Similarly, modern abstract painting rejected the Platonic concept of art as “mimesis” and attempted to return to a more primal state of art, i.e. to a non-representational art, where the artist expresses an inner and intuitive world-picture (Weltbild) of the external reality -or as Rebay meant the word gegenstandlos as“subjective”. The art theorist Wilhelm Worringer also believed that primitive art is par excellence a “pure, geometric and abstract” art, where the subject unconsciously tried to escape the eternal flux of the varying phenomena of the outer world.
As Kant believed, despite all the avant-garde’s radical convictions about an abstract art of the future, abstract art essentially managed to return to a primordial side of pictorial art, where the inner world of the human psyche with all its violent permutations is no longer separated from an inaccessible rift in the external world. But instead, through abstract art (as well as music), the numinous phantasmagorias of the soul are translated externally without the need to appropriate a material form, or an external image. They should instead be expressed through a kind of formal “formlessness”, in which they visually diffuse without the metaphorical clothing of a phenomenal world. Thus, the Kantian separation of the thing-in-itself (i.e. the noumenon) and ephemeral phenomena no longer exists and the abstract artist as a new kind of shaman, or magician directly externalizes his immaterial and aniconic thoughts-feelings into objective reality, restoring thus a long-gone universal communication for humanity, despite linguistic, ethnic and cultural differences among civilizations. The imaginal (and also formless) medium of the abstract artist here manifests itself as a universal language of specific moods (Stimmungen) or even archetypical experiences, which every human, as Carl Jung strongly affirmed, everywhere in the globe subliminally shares.
Likewise, Vitastali’s complex, yet simultaneously time-minimal works externalize the boundary between abstraction and figurative painting. Between the dreamlike masses of pure color, anthropomorphic figures and illusory forms can be discerned, which blend together within the streams of discrete colorfulness. Thus, different fragments of lost forms are revived in an elaborate, but simple mosaic of lively hues, where the unconscious tendencies of an inner world are imprinted like living spots on the white paper, while morphic modulations and color-form sketches recreate the subliminal tones of a lyrical locus of abstract images. Her present paintings are abstracted, representing as such an engagement with her earlier mode of working, which rigorously marks her maturity as an artist.
As Ariadni Vitastali writes in her statement about her new works “the painting elements of form, color, gesture, line, as also fragments of phrases, or simply words, define the worked surface as abstract elements, insinuating a glimpse view of a momentary and subjective reality”.
Thomas Ackermann was born in Bad Hersfeld, Germany in 1952. As a child his first major influence was a set of Bibles his mother received in trade when Thomas was just four years old. Within the Bibles were illustrations by the Old Masters, Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, Michelangelo, Raphael, Caravaggio, Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, and Jacob Jordaens, to name a few. Thomas became enthralled with the illustrations he constantly viewed in the Bibles.
The Ackermanns immigrated to Canada in 1964 where Thomas continued his studies. As a young adult Thomas enrolled in the New School of Art as it was then called, in Toronto, Ontario. The New School of Art was an academic school under the tutelage of Dennis Burton, Robert Markle, Graham Coughtry, Gordon Rainer, David Bolduc and John MacGregor, all of which had achieved artistic success within the art world of Canada. Out of a class of 20 art students, Ackermann was the only graduate that would go on to pursue and sustain a career as a successful full-time artist.
Inspired by the famous Canadian Group of Seven, renowned for their dramatic landscapes of Ontario’s northern reflections, Thomas Ackermann worked in a spontaneous and improvisational manner focused on creating his own painting style. While the aforementioned generation drew their inspiration from the all too familiar landscapes, Ackermann was greatly influenced by the abstract style of action painting. Artists like Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, Adolph Gottlieb, Ad Reinhardt, Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko became the staple of New York Abstract Expressionism. In Canada there was Harold Town, William Ronald, Ray Mead, Tom Hodgson, Kazou Nakamura, Walter Yarwood, Jock MacDonald, Alexandra Luke, Oscar Cahen, Hortense Gordon and Jack Bush, who formed the Painters Eleven. That generation introduced abstract action painting to Canada in the 1950’s, influenced by what was transcending in New York City from the New York Abstract Expressionists.
Ackermann experimented with images taken from the Impressionists and modern artists and incorporated those images with the influences of the New York Expressionists. By using his own methods and techniques, he would completely transform the image by assimilating the two styles. Early works such as “I Love M. Matisse” (1984, oil and beeswax on canvas 66” x 66”) and “Curtain Call for a Flag 1” (1984, oil and beeswax on canvas 80” x 80”) took an inspired Henri Matisse “Blue Nude” cut out image and merged it with a Willem de Kooning “Women in Landscape” image creating an assimilation of the two styles on a William Ronald backdrop.
More recent works such as “Bacchanal on Cedar Lake” (2022 oil and beeswax on canvas 55” x 60”) and “Cedar Lake Ritual” (2023 oil and beeswax on canvas 55” x 60”) where the central figures are inspired by Matisse’s “The Dance” (1910, oil on canvas) were juxtaposed over a backdrop manipulation of Tom Thomson’s “The West Wind” (1917, oil on canvas) thus forming a dramatic combination. The former, a night vision with the crescent moon lighting up the dancing figures and the latter, a cloudy day vision of the dancing figures under a burning tree.
Another recent example is “Northland” (2022, oil and beeswax on canvas 48” x 76”) where he places a central figure inspired by Canadian artist Ken Danby’s “At the Crease” (1972 oil on canvas) juxtaposed over a Rorschach backdrop manipulation of Tom Thomson’s “The West Wind” (1917 oil on canvas). Ackermann often appropriates iconic images readjusting their history into his own poignant point of view. He continuously uses an inspired image in different combinations until he has exhausted its usage.
As a painter for more than 50 years Ackermann has endeavoured to elicit a visceral experience from his paintings to the viewer. His interest is not about the motif or images used as the central focal point but more so the process of transforming the painted surface with his unique manipulation of his medium, the oil paint, thus creating a physically, stunning painting. Ackermann quoted “Half of my subject is the painting itself.” He developed a unique way of applying materials onto the canvas, in spirit, much like Jackson Pollock or Helen Frankenthaler, dripping or pouring. Ackermann uses a 600 year old medium such as oil paint, mixed with beeswax, allowing flexibility to the integrity of the paint and re-invented or altered it to suit his own unique process. He is constantly altering his methods to discover new ways and techniques in which to express his vision. His works are either highly reflective, without topical varnishes, or extremely rough and textured. In his later and more recent works, a brush has not touched the final surface.
Like many of his peers, Ackermann worked through a series of developmental phases or stages influenced by his surroundings. He began in Toronto, Ontario, moved to Spain, returned to Canada, and finally settled in the small rural town of Forest, Ontario. He has worked through different influential periods beginning with “Figurative Abstractions” (1973-1988). then transitioning to his “Spanish Paintings” during his residency in southern Spain (1988-1994). From there, on his return to Canada to Forest, Ontario, he commenced his transformation into his “Qabala” series (1994-2000). Constantly moving forward, Ackermann created “The Card Paintings”, an ambitious body of work at a grandiose scale from any previous works (2002-2004). Following this, he transitioned to works predominately on paper mounted to canvas with his “Target-ID” images taken from portraiture. He produced an oeuvre based on a photograph of “A Portrait of Apollo 11 Astronaut Buzz Aldrin”. This photograph was taken by his fellow astronaut Neil Armstrong, showing Aldrin standing on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969. By using historical and biblical imagery, one sees reflections on the astronaut’s helmet face-shield/visor creating his “Astronauts” series (2007-2009).
In later years, Ackermann became discouraged with the academics of the art world. He turned to his dark period producing a series of paintings titled “Dead Men Standing”, “The Gates of Hell” and “Fukushima”. Here he stumbled upon a new technique that would transform his work for the next several years and which has continued to this day. This discovery consisted of placing a high grade acrylic film called Duralar over an image, than peeling it off and repositioning it on a fresh canvas. This created a soluble transfer which allowed him to not only paint one image but to transfer it to other canvases creating paintings from one master image. Ackermann further discovered that the longer he left the high grade acrylic film cover on the painting, the more plastic in nature the surface would become, and remain to the point where the surface looked as if the image was behind plexiglass, when in fact it is the actual paint surface. One only needs to look at the surface of any one of his paintings to visually see the quality and aspects of the applied oil paint to the canvas revealing the genius of a true master.