승연례 Seung Yun-Ray
Between drawing and painting, Fantasy on its boundary
Drawing, completed as a painting

What is the general view of the aesthetic value of drawing? We could re-evaluate the aesthetic value of drawing through the work of artist Seung Yun-Ray who has been putting her attention and time into her creative work. Contemporary art is infinitely broadening the definition of art. It also is dissolving the genre’s boundaries as the forms and materials of contemporary art are not limited and even an artist’s everyday life, thoughts and time can be used as resource and subject to discuss the artist’s identity. The artists’ highly personal and trivial autobiographical stories differentiate their own artworks from others and lead to building a unique identity. Artists always reveal autobiographical narratives through their work of art which is the result of the autonomy of creation. Act of creation is the inherent rights given to artists. Drawing was not regarded as proper art for a long time because it was viewed more as a preliminary preparation of more monumental art forms. From primitive society to the contemporary era, drawing is one of the most natural skills that existed throughout human history, as well as the most basic means of expression in art. As seen in the classical Western art, lines were mostly used to record and recreate the world, but in more recent times they were employed to understand the essence of objects and to visually abstractify.

From Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo of the Renaissance to Ingres of Neoclassicism in the 19th century, and Van Gogh, Manet, Degas and Renoir of the 20th century, the importance of drawing was recognized by the works of many great artists throughout history. Leonardo da Vinci, in particular, highlighted that drawing practice could help grow observation skills and imagination and is known to create works that embody the basics of drawing – observation, exploration and recording. Erwin Panofsky established the modern concept of drawing in the 17th century. According to him, he discovered two notions from federico zuccari: an artist’s inner reason and an outer structure that resonates the former. The inner reason is often viewed as ideas and concepts in contemporary art. In the 19th century, Paul Cézanne moved away from the conventional practice and started to draw with colors rather than lines, while Van Gogh experimented with drawing and painting questioning which is the most important element in art – line or color.

In the 1960s, the rise of alternative forms of art such as performance, installation and conceptual art in the United Stated prompted re-evaluation of drawing. Artists began to re-examine and redefine the definition of drawing, as well as to explore its possibilities as a method. Coming into the 20th century, the coexistence of line and color blurred the boundary between drawing and painting and has been developed as an independent genre.

“…the quality we have come to value most highly in art... has always been present... but usually in the past have characterized only modest and ‘secondary’ work; that is drawings. These characteristics include spontaneity, creative speculation, experimentation, directness, simplicity, abbreviation, expressiveness, immediacy, personal vision, technical diversity, modesty of means, rawness, fragmentation, discontinuity, unfinishedness and open endedness. These have always been the characteristics of drawing.”

With the wide spectrum of characteristics of drawing Craig-Martin lists, drawing appears to be the most suitable technique for illustrating the flow of time and psychological narrative. Drawing is recognized as its own, independent genre because it allows artists to promptly express their feelings and memories with the simplest tools. Drawing from emotional experience and personal interaction encapsulates the essence of the artist’s life and serves as a means to communicate between inner and outer self. Moreover, it should also be noted that drawing has a continuous scalability. Matisse became wheelchair-bound in his old age and continued his artistic journey with his cutout technique, which uses scissors to cut shapes from painted papers. This was one of Matisse’s drawing methods, which he referred to as “drawing with scissors”. The technique is an aggregate of outcomes of observed characteristics of drawing. Drawing has moved beyond conditions and limitations imposed by traditional practices using line, pen and paper and is expanding its genre and scope to include environmental art, figure drawing and many more.

In this context, things like everydayness, originality, temporality, psychological narrative and limitless lines and forms found in Seung Yun-Ray’s work match, indicating that the artist has created her own creative world. She mostly works with classical materials such as crayon and paper. The artist’s work, however, should be viewed and interpreted as paintings, and the perspective should also be shifted accordingly. Moreover, her recent work features flat brush strokes as if done with a large crayon suggesting that she is experimenting with techniques and materials. With her paintings and drawings that cross over the boundary, Seung Yun-Ray is already redefining the boundary.

Becoming the winds, strolling around

Artist Seung Yun-Ray’s work began when her inspiration of wind met palm trees. Any wind, big or small, always passes through palm trees, leaves, branches and barks on tree trunks. Day by day when she works, she cannot blow away the wind in each of her paintings. Despite the huge volume of work she creates, the wind caught in her work enables each piece to stand uniquely on its own. The artist must have been moved by the very first palm tree she saw being blown by the wind and the movement of lines and shapes is based on her imagination of palm trees dancing in the wind. Wind becomes an important way of communication between the artist and palm trees. Yun-Ray lives and works in an environment where no palm trees are seen, yet her source of inspiration and the communication tool allow her to picture and paint anywhere. Her imagination is always transformed into wind and drifting around palm trees. Inspiration is not something that you can find or make happen during your scheduled hours. Inspiration stored up inside from ordinary, everyday life becomes a driving force and, ultimately, a work of art. Her keen eyes and rich emotional sensitivity help her garner much inspiration from her surroundings and daily life for her art. Plants, particularly flowers and trees, move us in a special way.

Feelings and sentiments deeply rooted in the artist are her long-lasting, unchanging, unique instinct and they are visible in her work. Artist Lee Gun Yong told me in a quiet voice that his wife Seung-Ray still doesn’t just walk past wildflowers but stops to look closely, mesmerized by their beauty like a girl. Palm trees in general grow tall. Some palm trees reach several meters tall and some are with abundant small leaves. Palm trees in the artist’s work are mostly short and have abundant leaves and solid trunks and each painting features a different shape, size and color. In one of her recent pieces, three short palm trees are almost bent to the ground with leaves blown by wind. It can be read as a determination to withstand strong and harsh wind at some point in the past or present, possibly referring to a particular period in the artist’s life. The palm tree’s flexibility and strength resembles the artist.

Another characteristic is found in her techniques. Seung Yun-Ray uses crayon, a simple material to create lines and surfaces, and make her canvas visually rich. She draws planes by holding the crayons obliquely; sharp lines are drawn vertically on top of them, and solid curvy lines cross over. As a result, a one-of-a-kind unique piece of work is created that transcends material limitations. In the course of creation, her work comes to acquire oriental features. With intense concentration, one painting is completed within a short period of time. Her work shows the traces of fast and skilled hand movements, as well as diverse shades of crayon which almost resembles that of ink painting on Korean paper hanji where strength and concentration determine ink tones. It is reminiscent of traditional brush-and-ink techniques used in oriental paintings. The six principles of Chinese painting list six criteria to consider when judging a painting. The most important rule is the strength of the strokes and the application of the brush and a good painting should have “Spirit Resonance” also known as energy or vitality that flows from the painter to the brush and life encompasses a work of art. The crayon the artist is holding is similar to an old brush that remembers how you work and moves as one with the artist. The unpainted, blank background shown in most of her work resembles the empty background space seen in the oriental aesthetics. The blank space can be sky, space or whatever else imagined. Wind hovering over palm trees blows through the leaves and branches and continues to flow to the empty, infinite space. Inspired by the wind, the artist Seung Yun-Ray presents a transcendent expression of the subject.
Cheong Jong Hyo, Chief Curator at the Busan Museum of Art