Dae Ha Kwon

New York Story 1, Dae Ha Kwon, Oil and Acrylic on Canvas


Kwon Dae Ha – Black Nightly Sceneries

Park Yeong Taek (Kyunggi University Professor, Art Critic)

Kwon Dae Ha has been painting night sceneries for a long time.  Night time has been a captivating space, a special time totally different from the daytime for the artist.  For city dwellers, night time is actually more alive and busier than any hour during the day and it can be an absolutely private time.  Tension and rules of the morning are lifted, and one can feel more relaxed and free, time to focus on your inner self is given. In contrast to the traditional society when nights were a space for rest, silence and fear, in modern society nights are clearly bright and an extension of the daytime.  In addition, nights have become a visual entity. Now nights are not only a continuation of daytime but it's shaping into a separate and very different world. Furthermore, daytime is regulated by the natural light of the sun. On the other hand, nights come to view through the omnipresence of artificial illumination.  Thus night sceneries are expressed by the psychological and situational qualities produced by these artificial illumination and lights. Kwon Dae Ha, mesmerized by these night sceneries, has reproduced the city night sceneries realistically in his early years. Later they experienced a process of gradual simplification.  His latest works, however, are full of symbols. Night sceneries are expressed with color hues, paint brush strokes and dots that signify shimmering lights and shadows of flickering lights. It feels like you are looking at a photo of a night view from a satellite or down from an imaginary altitude.

The walls of Kwon Dae Ha’s art studio located in Myongdong, the neighborhood of bright lights, are filled with black night sceneries.  His canvases are confidently covered in black. At a glimpse, you would find his works similar to a monochrome painting. They give an impression of having no brush stroke or paint traces, but only canvases firmly draped with absolute blackness.  They are black paints closely and thinly attached to the canvas skin. The planes, paints and colors that immediately bring the painting to existence are only stopped on the surface. But in this plane, colored dots are diffusely dotted everywhere.  These are merely tiny dots which were placed on the canvas as they slipped from the tip of the paintbrush that hold the color paints. As soon as a few colors such as yellow, orange and blue are placed on top of the black canvas and arranged in a special order, they transform into night scenery.  If there was an absence of absolute thickness and darkness, the colors and dots placed on top would be rendered meaningless. What we perceive as a city night view is because the memory of a nightscape has made us recall one through the surface of this painting. In other words, Kwon’s paintings are not a reproduction of night scenery.  Instead they shape the abstract pattern that stimulates the people’s memories and residual images of night views.

 On the surface of his painting there are no objects drawn, and there is no existence of specific objects.  Physical subjects are completely erased, and only colored dots float around. An infinite number of images that shape the night are completely erased, leaving a view where only the light crystals and colored dots remain.  The view of perspective drawing weakens and everything draws closer in a straight, even and flat way. However, when looking at the lights and colors placed on top of the canvas, we won’t find it very difficult to be reminded of a particular place in this familiar city, Seoul.  It seems that this extremely abstract painting suddenly became an extremely concrete painting. But drawing the night actually means drawing the lights glimmering in its darkness. If there was no light, we would not be able to perceive it through our sight. So when we see the night, it actually means to push away the darkness and barely manage to see the lights that illuminate our surroundings.  Of course, nights can be seen in minute detail or not be seen at all, depending on the street or the time of day. Because Kwon Dae Ha’s paintings focus on night sceneries at a distance, they became sceneries where lights flicker on and off. They became still, simple and flat sceneries where the distinction between concrete and abstract art lost all meaning.

 Kwon Dae Ha caught and depicted Seoul night sceneries from a far and distant view.  As onlookers perceive the movement of their eyes when they notice distant streets as they looked down, at eye level, or while resting on a railing, they will be reminded of a city night view they saw at a certain place or street.  The view of the city from a distance at night only exists with lights and colors. They appear as enchanting and beautiful scenery. In this manner, paintings show you that things you have seen before may look suddenly unfamiliar. Simultaneously, one can realize that objects once thought you knew well are actually ambiguous and mysterious. Kwon’s canvases are filled with thick black colors.  It’s almost as if colored dots existed in a black fabric. There are no differences in shade, nor weakly or thickly colored areas, but only small dots evenly dotted on a dark background. They are paintings where coordinates of rays of lights illuminating a particular place have been carefully dotted. These color dots carry a specific object, and originate from the latter, but actually don’t reveal anything.  Night invites people who recall daytime sceneries to experience how different they might look. At the same time, it is an active imaginary process of parts that cannot be seen, and stimulate the rotating speed of our memory process. Kwon’s paintings are also the same.

Day and night, two distinct worlds that were somewhat romantic times have changed in the modern day.  Due to electricity and illumination, commercialism and capital increase, night has become an extension of day, and it’s become impossible to free itself from the power of production and consumerism.  It also cannot break away from the lightheaded cycle of desire, indulgence and consumerism. In today’s world, unlike the past, night is not considered inferior to the day. What connects night and day and displays the entire day under bright, clear lights and desire is the city. That’s why the city is given more restless desire and fantasy by its illumination at night.  Perhaps the night scenery is the true scenery of the city and capitalism. Kwon Dae Ha calmly looks into these city nightscapes from a distance. The city night he saw from a far distance simply exists as glimmering lights. Lights and colored dots create a stream that drifts away. Kwon quietly dots those lights and paints today’s city landscapes. Inside them, there is someone and he is headed somewhere.  But we can’t see or know him for sure. As the night wears on, those lights will slowly fade away. Life and death, just like day and night, will cross ephemerally. When you think about it, drawing the blinking city lights is linked to the artist’s self-reflection on our transient and short-lived lives and existence.