548 West, New YorkMay 9 - 12, 2024

The Nature Within

Lee Donsoon, Playback, 2022, Nails on wood panel, 55✕70cm

The rather peculiar bond between man and nature is a theme which has fascinated artists throughout history. In literature, nature is often depicted as an all-encompassing figure — ranging from portrayals as the mother of earth, the life-giver, and an unforgiving force which punishes mortals who attempt to destroy it. In the fine arts, nature is explored through a variety of ways and media — while the paintings of the great Romanticism period commonly captured its serene and peaceful side, Modernist art tends to focus on its vibrancy and multiplicity of meaning. This week, FOCUS features two South Korean artists: Donsoon Lee and Jeonghu Jang, both of whom go beyond the limits of environmental art and seek to understand the symbiotic relationship between nature and humanity.

Jang Jeonghu, A Struggle Towards an Ideal 30-23, 2022, Mixed media on aluminum, 72.7✕91cm

Born in Seongsan, South Korea, Lee is an artist most renowned for his ‘Nail paintings’. Often featuring materials such as nails and hammers in his artworks, Lee expresses the stories surrounding the lives of human beings and their natural environments. Notably, he is fascinated by real-world problems such as destruction, civilisation, and disaster. The way in which the nails are applied to create art — hammered down one by one onto a wooden panel — symbolizes the turbulent relationship we share with nature. According to the artist, the application of nails is never a perfect routine: the nails bump into each other, fall sideways, and make ‘wounds’ in the wood. The repetitive action of hammering furthermore signifies a call for reality and a reminder of the violent tendencies of human nature. In his artwork, ‘Nest’ (2022), a flock of birds are portrayed with colorful nails. However, the arrangement of such structured material conveys a sense of artificiality. It therefore demonstrates a natural sight through human lens, perhaps alluding to how we attempt to reign in and manipulate our natural surroundings to satisfy our own needs.

Lee Donsoon, Nest, 2022, Nails and oil on wood panel, 55✕70cm

Similarly drawing upon the theme of nature, Jang’s artworks capture different aspects of humanity. Inspired by ancient aphorisms, the South Korean artist creates scratch drawings expressed on iron plates, in which the geometrical scratch lines absorb and reflect light. Mimicking the movement of waves, or lightning, Jang interprets natural phenomena and attempts to use these motions as metaphors for the human condition. While the direction of the frantic lines, mirroring a tunnel vision, implies that they are leading towards a concrete destination, Jang states otherwise. The sparks of light symbolize the artist's own struggle to obtain a certain ideal. Just like the illusory nature of lightning, Jang’s ‘disorderly’ paintings express at the same time a sense of futility but also a never-ending passion that burns inside man to attain their own ideal fantasies.

Jang Jeonghu, A Struggle Towards and Ideal 30-20, 2022, Mixed media on aluminum, 72.7✕91cm

Written by Rose Wei