I was always intrigued by the idea of taking “non-artistic” or industrial everyday materials and running them through a “non-artistic” process to re-create the aspects of nature that I observed and appreciated in everyday life. To me, the concept of nature is not a scientific one, but rather a philosophical one. The idea of nature that encompasses the whole universe, of which man is just one small part, was a concept that I learned and practiced in my everyday life growing up in Korea. I lived under that notion of universe until I came to the West, where nature is seen as something to conquer but not to live with, and where nature is there waiting to be transformed into something “modern,” not to be appreciated and learned from. The explanation of the concept of my idea of nature becomes my truest artist statement. I appreciate every day the beauty of nature, especially in California. I try not to copy nature, but instead to reinterpret its essence into my art with my own skill and language.
This results in all of my installations, very often titled “California Light”, “Lines and Lights,” “Capturing Sunlight,” or “Bulkot” that can be translated literally in “Fire Flowers.”
In my installation work series, I use industrial materials such as stainless steel mesh as my main material. After trying many other mediums such as mulberry paper, galvanized wire, coper mesh, and copper sheets, I found this stainless steel mesh to be the best medium for my concept, since it is light but very sturdy, luminous like metal, but not eroding over time. With a blow-torch, I burn the metal and “draw” lines on the surface. Because I wear eye protective gear in the darkness, I see only the flame from the torch burning. After a while, I feel that the flame pulls my hand where it wants to go, or some unknown one makes lines for me. It becomes a kind of meditation process.
When the artwork is finished, my metal mesh pieces seem to be made of soft silk. But when they are touched, they are surprisingly cold and sharply metallic. I believe these kinds of illusions reflect real life. And when I burn the metal screen with a flame, it is free-hand without any back drawing. This technique is similar to what my Asian ancestors did with Sumi ink on the paper over the last thousands of years, and when I work on my pieces, I feel the spirit of the ancient art coming through to me from long ago.
From 2016, I added a new element of genuine gold leaf into my usual torched mesh artwork. Why gold leaf? Mainly because gold has always been beautiful to me as its lasting beauty was cherished by many people for thousand years.
Also, I have a personal story behind this element “gold”. I have one small wooden Buddha statue in my home that was passed to me from my father when he converted to Christianity. The statue was a gift from a chief monk from a temple built by my mother’s side family. It is small in size, about palm height, and fully gilded in pure gold. I believe unconsciously I was building my gold leaf dream with that statue.
After several months of failures and frustrations, I slowly became used to using the gold materials as if they were coloring papers. Many of the resulting works are formed from 24, 18 or 12 karat gold which appear as different shades and warmth.
My main goal in making this work was to incorporate historical gold leaf techniques and materials in my contemporary artwork. I also hoped to further my conceptual growth in this new gilded medium. I hope that people enjoy my modern interpretations of these centuries-old gilding techniques.
My decades-long artist career can be summed up as capturing and learning from the essence of nature with my artistic language. As a humble part of it, I am very happy and proud of sharing my awe of nature with the world.
Mirang Wonne, artist