Helena Parada Kim's forthcoming solo exhibition in the Galerie Choi & Lager in Cologne will present paintings by the Berlin-based artist from the last two years.
Two distinct bodies of work will be on display in the exhibition. Firstly, there are large-format, naturalistic plant paintings, to which the artist has increasingly devoted herself in recent years. In the second body of work, the young painter presents pictures that deal with aspects of Korean art and aesthetics.
Helena Parada Kim, who grew up in Cologne as the daughter of a Korean mother and Spanish father and studied under Peter Doig at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, seeks in her latest pictures a stylistic fusion of traditional Korean iconography with elements of pre-modern European painting. In doing so, she marries her skills of realistic representation and old master technique with the often graphic style and the abstract backgrounds of the painting traditions of East Asia.
In the lower room, a darkened space awaits the visitor, where the plant pictures hang. The naturalistically painted woodland plants appear to emerge from the undergrowth and transport the viewer into a kind of mystical primeval forest, from which the plants shine out.
The artist's interest in plants and gardening was awakened some years ago and went hand in hand with her desire to paint pictures of plants.
Particularly appealing are her paintings of large-leaved plants such as the butterbur and hostas, which already have a plasticity due to their enormous foliage and are correspondingly picturesque. The butterbur is a common riparian plant which is quite common in our latitudes, so hardly a botanical exotic.
Also the water lilies, which Parada Kim painted in previous work series, as well as the dandelion, rhododendron and hollyhocks are almost banal plants in their ubiquity. But it is precisely their supposed ordinariness that provides the particular stimulus for the painter to reclaim the mysterious and almost inscrutable qualities from these plants.
She finds inspiration both in Dutch still lifes, such as those by Rachel Ruysch or Jan Davidsz. de Heem, with their captivating botanical precision, but also through discovering the paintings of Otto Marseus van Schrieck, who devoted himself almost exclusively to woodland still lifes, has provided artistic stimulus for her work.
The upper room of the exhibition is dominated by monumental representations of traditional Korean robes—the hanboks. The artist depicts the robes with a high degree of realism, placing them in front of airy, monochrome backgrounds.
In some pictures, such as Blue Hanbok, a figure stands frontally spreading her robe out in front of a gold background. The picture has an unmistakable sacred character, possibly reminiscent of representations of the Virgin of Mercy, which enjoyed great popularity in Europe in the Late Medieval Period. Even in the almost geometric compositions, Royal Wedding Hanbok I and Royal Wedding Hanbok II, Christian symbolism of the cross resonates with restraint.
Two large-format pictures can be seen in the exhibition that address traditional Korean iconography: in Amithaba two elderly women (the artist's great-aunts living in Korea) stand as if in front of a stage, on which larger-than-life Buddha figures are painted in gold on a black background.
In the picture San Geronimo, an old man sits in front of a mural depicting Sanshin, the god of the mountains: a widely used motif in the shamanistic folk art of Korea. In the iconography of this god, Parada Kim recalls the popular motif in European painting of St Jerome / Hieronymus. In her picture, she quotes the famous peacock from Antonella da Messina's painting of St Jerome in His Study.
In the exhibition an installation object can be seen in the form of a screen which brings together the thematic strands of the exhibition. On the front there are depictions of the almost ornamentally large spreading leaves of the butterbur plant. The back of the screen is covered with silk. In this work the artist also attempts a convergence with traditional East Asian painting, which often used screens as a support. Breaking the picture into individual panels creates a delightful spatial effect, that makes the foliage of the butterbur appear even more powerful.
Press release courtesy Choi&Lager Gallery.