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Dialogues in Abstraction: East and West

December 1st - 23rd, 2003

The goal this exhibition is to illustrate the cross-pollination between east and west as seen in current art. The show includes paintings, constructions, and assemblages that address the issue of this exchange. Included are three artists from Asia (Kim, Rim, Kikuchi) and an equal amount from the West (Brugnola, Manouselis, Smith). Below are excerpts from the accompanying catalogue essay written by the show’s curator Thalia Vrachopoulos.
The images in this show can be seen as embodiments of the cross-fertilization exemplified by Clifford Smith in his mandalas. As a self-taught multi-media artist, Smith uses colored broken eggshells with which to fabricate his Hindu inspired works. His mandalas while painted, are nevertheless done in a painstaking process with fragmented eggshells set into a previously drawn design and are in their use of analysis and synthesis within the same work, indebted to Byzantine mosaics. The resulting textures although accomplished through a different medium, evince his familiarity with Tibetan sand paintings. In the 1990s, Smith basically taught himself the complexities of color and abstract composition, transforming an unrecognized medium, the egg-shell mosaic, to the level of fine art.

 Orlanda Brugnola received her Masters in Fine Arts at City College in 1998, has traveled widely to Asia and teaches eastern religious philosophy at John Jay College. Her abstract canvases are meditative in their almost monochromatic coloring and repetitive brushwork, even though in this latter quality they access process-oriented abstract expressionism. Through thick impastos Brugnola creates passages of opaque color that conceals the support against areas read as voids, which results in a complex dialogue both inside the pictorial plane and with the viewer. Brugnola’s involvement with Eastern philosophy is evident in Amarnath Vision , 2000 (70"x64" acrylic on canvas), which according to its author concerns meditation upon a pilgrimage. The colors, while not those used traditionally to represent Shiva, are the glacier blue of the ice column itself, and purple, which reflects the passionate heart of the faithful devotee.

Orlanda Brugnola, Amaranth Vision (detail), acrylic on canvas, 70"x 64", 2002

 Masashi Kikuchi paints on silk, a traditional medium in Asian art but unusual for the west where the use of a silk support associates the work to the decorative arts. However, rather than being traditional or decorative, Kikuchi re-defines his painted idiom into unique fields of multi-layered forms, such as lotus leaves, that seem to breathe life through their energy. Untitled, 2003 (13'10"x 2'11.5") mixed media on silk) contains a delicate overlapping of reds, blues, and brown/yellows with white used both as positive form and negative space, which results in Kikuchi’s multi-dimensional works. By painting directly on the silk, Kikuchi reverses the relationship of the traditional Kakemono (hanging scroll) format first appearing in the Heian era, which is done on paper and then backed by silk.

Masashi Kikuchi, Mistletoe (detail), mixed media on silk, 54"x74", 2002.

 Grace Jungwook Rim’s themes like Mahayana Buddhism engender and express an ethic of universal compassion and concern. Rim’s paintings and drawings are based on the process known in Buddhist philosophy as emptying the mind. She paints small circles in repeated meditative patterns through which she’s seeking peace and harmony in her life and art. Rim says that the process of creating the circles involves their being made with much thought, without thought, and to lose thought because her intent is to flow with time. The circles represent moments in time, and simultaneously symbolize her wishes for human salvation. Rim’s media vary depending on her goal; consequently she is conversant with many materials including acrylic, oil, charcoal, pen, pencil, and wood panel, paper or canvas. In Entrance to the River, 2003 (66"x49", acrylic and oil on canvas) a composition with yellow and plum elements, we encounter a multitude of smaller circles within a larger circular opening of light. And, like the perfect tranquility at the heart of all things, Rim’s circles speak of absolute eternal bliss reached through wisdom.

Grace Jungwook Rim, Entrance to a River (detail), acrylic, oil on canvas, 66"x 49", 2003



 Jinsoo Kim’s Entering/Exiting, 2003 is a paper and thread assemblage whose value actually lies in the work-intensive process of creation and in Kim’s use of ephemeral yet humble materials that he elevates to an almost sacred state. The kernel of this concept is implicit in tribal sand paintings with symbolic associations that are temporary as well as in masks, food decorations or fireworks. Kim's transitoriness refers to existence without minimizing its meaning. By acknowledging life’s delicate balance and ephemeral aspects, we can be more responsible in accepting its potentialities, of actualizing or condemning them to non-manifestation. These imprints will remain as the testaments of existence. Kim’s Entering/Exiting by engaging in the aspect of perishability, can be related to Japanese aesthetics that not only embrace fragility but that actually require it as a necessary ingredient to beauty.

Grace Jungwook Rim, Entrance to a River (detail), acrylic, oil on canvas, 66"x 49", 2003

 Ostensibly a western abstraction, Demetrius Manouselis’ Composition, 2002 (24"x48.5", acrylic on paper) in its monochromatic and linear foci recalls Chinese landscape and bamboo paintings. Composition’s muted tones like the ink washes of Chinese landscape create echoes that maintain eye movement equally on the painting’s four quadrants resulting in compositional balance. Its underlying grid sustains structural integrity while simultaneously bending in a diagonal arc at the midpoint to transmute its rectilinear motifs into organic shapes. Composition can be considered within the abstract surrealism that marks the return of this style in today’s art market but Manouselis has been refining his style in this direction for the past ten years. As such, it is informed by a multitude of concerns including architectural structures but also his vast theoretical and conceptual awareness.

Demetrius Manouselis, Composition 2002, acrylic on paper, 24"x 48", 2002

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