SURFACE @GALLERY 2, SEOUL

with works by Gunwoo SHIN

(Korean, born 1978)

Shin Gunwoo's works can be summarized as "a sculptural act performing a theatrical situation." the figures in his relief work are front-and-center, as if it is delivering a soliloquy on stage. The background, or stage, is boldly omitted and abstracted with surreal tones at times. It projects the figures even further to the front of the stage. If we draw parallels of Shin's relief works as an actor on stage, then his free-standing carvings are works that feature only the actor and nothing else. 

Exhibition title Surface is about the outer layer, the appearance of things. It is also rather contradictory to the three-dimensional form that a sculpture presents. And just as the name suggests, Shin's presentation this solo exhibition are mostly two-dimensional works. He says he's long hoped for an opportunity to paint. Planning or drawing for the sculpture is done on a flat surface, be it on paper or a digital monitor, but that is just the means. However, the relief's rectangular border which frames the work, and the position of the subject within is very much like a painting. 

Shin Gunwoo began working on, or towards flat(ter) surfaces back in 2012, with aluminum plates. The attempts were more an extension of his relief works and could be described as flattened sculptures. Aluminum plates were layered, shaped, and polished with enamel paint, spray, and urethane paint, repeated and layered to create a desired figure. At first, the aluminum plates served as the backgrounds to a relief work. Then the human form was removed from that background. Think of it as a stage where the actor has disappeared. What remains is space, composed to convey a sense of situation. 

A vacated stage, the background relief without the human figure, is both abstract and poetic. The faces, wrinkled fabric blurred into the screen, are trails of figures now unseen. Most of what meets the eye are oddly familiar yet cannot be named. Somewhat reminiscent of background space glimpsed behind human figures and their shadows. The lines that dictated the vector, the speed and direction, resemble the composition of figures on the canvas which dictated a particular point of view. Shin Gunwoo expresses that he wanted to express a particular a tone, an emotion, or atmosphere of a situation. To call it merely background would be obtuse. A more inclusive landscape is fitting. 

Coating aluminum plates and polishing them over iterations to add shape and form unto the surface is sculptural endeavor, more than a painterly one. His latest exhibition is noteworthy as he really did paint on the sculptures using traditional painterly media. Despite years of enduring interest in painting and having the technical proficiency of presenting forms, he says that using oil paints was a challenging task. The challenge was taken on, as the physicality of oil paintings and the canvas added something that the cold aluminum plate could not convey. Oil on canvas has a particular characteristic where even when painted over, the original colors on the canvas come forth to the surface. Furthermore, masterful brushstrokes can create or blur boundaries between colors and forms. Sculptures lack such nuanced tools. 

The drawing of forms on the aluminum plate, and the work of painting the same forms with oil both lighten the gravity of relief works and of the human form. In turn, the approach pays very close attention to depicting the atmospheric landscape in the rear. This made visible what was not, drew attention to what was had been ignored. Shin asked himself, 'is there usefulness, or validity to such intention, purposeful, active effort to make tangible the ambiance of the landscape, which is by nature not visible?' His response to that question are the landscape paintings that depict the landscape, and not the ambiance. The ambiance, the sense of space and movement, directionality are all returned to where they were formerly. 

This raises the question of "where were they before?" Where had the things and landscapes been? We know that this world is not only of images, so it is a universe on this side, and not the far side. They were originally in the real world. Of our actuality. An entire portion of the exhibition hall is occupied by an installed reproduction of Shin Gunwoo's studio and the ongoings within. The exhibition space is the very situation that Shin sought to convey through the relief, through the paintings. The state of things, the experiences that the artist experienced throughout life; they became paintings and sculptures, and then once again returned to where they came from: reality. No actors, no stage directions to convey a mood, the situation has come full circle. 

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