Kang Jun Seok: My Mate in HK

26 March - 16 April 2022

Dreamlike Utopia in Child’s Eyes


The new philosophy spread by the generation Z who are leading a modern culture has created a so-called mantra that we should prioritize individual’s happiness and sense of accomplishment. Rather than chasing higher position or higher salary, they come to realize the value of a simple hobby not requiring much time, a brief but genuine break, and travel. Living in contemporary era, Kang also is challenging himself to paint and relax at the same time.


“My work began from my inner desire to be relaxed. Then, I pursued a little bird staying in a well, a small cottage or palace, which is desolate, a barn, and a church that I think might be unknown except for me. I used to take comfort from drawing such images.”


In traveling in Jeju Island, he happened to discover a landscape in reality which was perfectly suited to his imaginary ideals. He moved to Jeju, and started his journey to build his own utopia.


A pure white cottage looking just like the house where he lives and lakes and Oreum (a rising small volcano Jeju Island), which repeatedly appear in his paintings, are very close to his real life, however, he doesn’t simply reflect them as they are. Interacting with his surroundings, he reconstructs them to create more idealized land of his own. This alternative world then liberates the audience from the burden and frustration in real life. 


Throughout the paintings, the audience meets somewhat mysterious characters. As if he insists the burden of real life is in adults’ hands, he deliberately makes his subjects as pure existence. They carry various personal objects that always was around our childhood or wear animal costume themselves. 


For example, a boy in <Vineyard Boy> (2022) has a giant leaf in his hands implying the childhood innocence. The ‘vineyard’ in the title is a metaphor for an object of admiration, nostalgia, and idea. That is, the childlike figure in his painting is an object in which his desire to be an innocent child free from the pain of reality is reflected.


Kang often makes combinations of landscapes and figures in horizontal or symmetric composition. Figures that stand facing each other or in pairs allow the audience appreciate the work in a well-balanced mood. Vertical angle toward sky, perfect flat surface in the air view, and gentle outline which looks like it is spreading due to his technique to add paints multiple times all present the sense of stability and function as an assistant helping relaxation. 


<cozy and cozy> (2020) is one of the works in which such a characteristic is maximized. The white cottage placed in the center of the complete horizon symbolizes the safest space which is repeatedly shown in his works. In the center of the canvas, it balances weight giving stability to the audience. The swimming pool in front of the cottage is also a frequently used element in his works. 


He paints a landscape in a distance first, then magnifies the figure in the landscape. Symmetric and stable structure also appears when he draws the zoomed-in figure. For example, the swimming figure and animal in <swimming season> (2021), a pair work, take the structure as well.


Kang, however, is not satisfied with escaping through a temporary relaxation by the utopian landscape and childlike characters. Figures with big eyes in child’s body and clothes may look like a pure child, but it also reminds the audience of a master seeming philosophical. Rather than being Peter Pan hid in Neverland, it is closer to be a baby Nietzsche who discovered something important inside, rising above the worldly values.


Through their eyes, Kang is arousing a weighty question about our life and value in a beautiful and peaceful way. Kang speaks a social aspect in our time that we try to keep inner peace amid the pain of reality in his canvas. Walking in the woods, sky, and lakeside along with the characters in the paintings, we will live another day holding a silver lining in our hearts.

Curator, Jeun Park