Kips Gallery


Sang Sam Park

Sang Sam Park’s artwork features a variety of landscape paintings. Some of them are fairly traditional depictions of fields painted in translucent hues, others are much more complex. What struck me about the others was their combination of the formal landscapes and a more minimal, conceptual approach. The painting consists of two canvases, one that is stacked on top of the other, but they come together as a satisfying whole.

The formal landscape portion of his artworks, usually located above the abstract canvas, is simply painted with few tones. They are quiet and meditative scenes that are reminiscent of Cezanne’s landscapes. The bottom picture plain is the unusual one that speaks of a more conceptual nature. It creates the tension and the distinctive contrast between the canvases. The bottom portion consists of a simple flat color that is smeared with a thick swatch of crusted paint. Park uses soil in all his paintings, mixing it into the pigment to create a thick, earthy paste. By using the actual soil from the painting site, it is possible that he is trying to connect with the landscape in a more direct way.

In Park’s paintings, another idiosyncratic element would be the transparent marks that appear throughout his picture. These ghost like marks may indicate the moon or a sun masked by fog. There are other faint lines that indicate clouds or perhaps exhaust from passing planes. They are used as compositional devices, but there is also something whimsical and lighthearted about them. One thing that I know: he is not interested in creating space and a large depth of field. Another landscape trope, the horizon line, where the sky meets the earth is also not a great concern to Park. The horizon is normally the constant factor where the viewer can orient herself and decipher her surroundings. In these paintings the horizon line becomes irrelevant. There is another investigation that cuts deeper than these common landscape-painting themes.

One might find it amusing to have these two picture plains meet, literally butted up against each other, but the artist is very sincere in his intent. There is a quiet playfulness in how the paintings are put together that lacks a jaded sense of irony. The minimal sections of Park’s artwork are not functioning just as a way to pull two clashing art concepts together. It is a mash up of genres, but it also shows two distinct vantage points of the same subject. When viewed together, the minimal thick impasto of dirt changes from a rough painted mark to an aerial view of the earth being plowed. This idea conceptually links the two surfaces as being of the same subject. It is a good visual twist, a unity of concepts, nature, and imagery; his work breathes, where it could just fall flat as a one-liner.

Sang Sam Park wrote about how his artwork is a spiritual pursuit as well as a creative exploration. To him, the landscape extends across the world. It connects his current location with the locations of his youth: the rice paddy fields, his grandmother’s home, and the farmlands of South Korea:

“My work dances in the studio of nature. It is …the source of artistic inspiration and the root of where my energy is generated. Whenever I stand on the fields, dreaming of a space that is wide and deep, I see lights and wind and feel the sky come closer.”

He envisions a spiritual world where the landscape offers more answers than questions and perhaps a way to his personal enlightenment. Some of his inspiration comes from his journey to Jeju Olle, a large network of hiking paths frequented by many people on Jeju island off the coast of South Korea. These trails can take days to travel and visitors can see sites ranging from seascape vistas to the island’s volcanic hills. There are many paths to follow and the pathways are famous for seeing the sites from different vantage points.   

His paintings have a strong presence that delivers an unyielding optimism punctuated by the simplicity of his image. Park’s artwork boils down essential elements of landscape painting and pushes them to be seen in a new viewpoint. These smart and sincere paintings are a rare occurrence, and I wonder how he will continue to push his work conceptually forward while bringing in his philosophical values. Or more simply, how will he continue to merge his relationship with nature with the process of painting? He is already successfully spinning old painting tropes on their head and pushing them up against each other, the earth and the sky are his.

Marcus Romero, Art Critic