Korean artist In kie Whang's large scale, pixilated landscapes explore the tenuous balance between his heritage and the digital age. The concurrent use of traditional imagery, 20th century techniques and materials make Whang's works a particularly attractive focus for an East - plus West equation. Particularly favored by the gatekeepers of canonical visions of visual art, Whang has been exhibited worldwide, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, to the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Seoul, and most notably one of three artists chosen to represent Korea in the 2003 Venice Biennial. Nothing more true could be said of Whang's romantic oversize landscapes - the sum of its parts is greater than its whole. Upon first glance, Whang's works potentially may be ink on scroll, or oil on canvas, yet closer inspection reveals a melange of durable and exciting materials that would otherwise never be considered part of Korean landscapes. Whang uses materials such as sticky black silicon shot, acrylic mirrored squares, and even bright fluorescent yellow lego bricks.
The artist has recreated traditional Korean paintings by means of a computer, first scanning the original image and then rendering that scan into a pixilated one without the gradations of black and white found in the actual image. Following an initial binarizing of the original image, Wang then converts the pixels into dots, later covering a carbon film with a hard sponge. Each unique material then fills the negative and positive spaces to render a collage and myriad of pixels, creating one hybridized landscape. Whang has titled his methodology of work, a medium unto itself, entitled 'Digital Sansuhwa', essentially meaning a reinvention of traditional Korean ink and brush landscape paintings using new technologies and materials. In Old Breeze 0801 (Lot 983), the power that exudes from this work comes not from the quality of the material, but from the intensity of sheer manual labour, comparable to the practices of a Zen master. Futhermore, in lieu of the rivets or crystals previously used in earlier works, lego has now become a favourite of the artist. The vibrant yellow backdrop in Plamountain (Lot 982) is juxtaposed against the mountain background in a vaguely familiar scene, with the hills and rivers dissipating under the digital gaze of the 21st century. The backgrounds surface appears to lose its claim to materiality, as the tiny lego pieces that cause this dematerialize render visible, and then invisible the nondescript silicon so that the abstract quality of Whang's digital aesthetic is intensified.
After 11 years in the United States, Whang returned to Korea in 1986, in an age of liberalization and globalization to assert Korean art's place in the world. Whang's works encompass an unmistakably Korean view of nature and the universe, globally recognizable by anyone. On one hand, while the interest in medium and formal elegance in his work reflects a very Western perspective, the roots of carefree and self expressionist attitude in the work is indicative of a polar opposite existence. In Kie Whang's art is a brief encapsulation of a complex history. Both on a personal and societal level, Whang's grandiose mixed media puzzles, conflict with the desire of creating a new order and maintaining customary Korean art methodologies. For instance, in the East, the philosophy was "art is human", whereas in the Western aesthetics, the relationship between art and reality was quite specific. Art served to explain the larger principles in real life; or rather to reflect the questions of life. Aptly themed, Whang's works convey this very discussion of Eastern aesthetics because they incorporate elements of harmony, qi, and nature. Coinciding with Whang's dualist view of nature is how Korea evolved from an agricultural society into an industrialized economy. The resulting upheavals of that shift are reflected in the conflict between Eastern and Western views of art. Through Whang's mountains, fields, and grandiose landscapes, one rediscovers a traditional view of nature and aesthetics.