by Rey Armenteros
I had two distinct groups of work from Shinchon. Even while still living in Shinchon, I already had titles for the two sets of paintings. They were going to be Shinchon Vertical and Shinchon Horizontal — their orientation dictated everything.
For the black and white drawings, I had more to think about. I was planning for them to consist of five decks of cards. They were all vertical. And they were connected in spirit, but I felt each one was separated by ideas.
I can’t recall what my original motives for the drawings used to be; I only had a sense of what I was attempting back then, which I do recall was for the ultimate purpose of narrative possibilities. To bring this art back to life, I was thinking of a story angle, and I was planning to follow a four classical elements thing with the additional element of the Void (which was a common feature in Asian groupings of fire, wind, water, and earth). Each of my five elements was going to be a period of the story. I was naming them Airborne Shinchon, Underwater Shinchon, Hellfire Shinchon, Earthbound Shinchon, and finally Abandoned Shinchon to represent the Void. In my mind, this story was as concrete as Homer’s Odyssey, and each chapter was an element that guided the reader’s journey into all five “underworlds.” The problem was that there was little substance in these settings, as my wife had pointed out to me; a reader would only be confounded if I touted these cards as the molecules of a story.
I had to think of this differently. My wife had given me the simple idea of just making these things into basic concepts of art, like portraits and landscapes. I went back to the cards and looked at them carefully, placing the roles of portraits over this stack and that of landscapes over that stack and perhaps still lifes (for my images that were nothing more than objects) over that stack. But though I had enough portraits for a deck of a decent size, I didn’t have enough for other traditional genres of painting. So, I kept Portraits and thought about other ways in which to group the couple of hundred drawings that were left over. I had some ideas and tossed them back and forth until I got a few things I liked. For the portraits, I called them Shinchon Faces. For the drawings that had a personal text, I came up with Shinchon Thoughts. For those that had a more distanced observation, I called them Shinchon Situations. For the abstract images, I reserved Shinchon Abstractions. And for those ink washes that possessed a certain special quality of light, I titled Shinchon Light.
I wasn’t sure if any of this was gong to work. I was feeling overwhelmed. Maybe revisiting old art was a bad idea after all. The new year was coming. I put it aside for the time being to be contemplated only after it stewed out of sight for a month or so.
by Rey Armenteros
I was cooking up reasons why I was even looking at this old work. Actually, the truth was that I didn’t need any reason. I was looking through it and contemplating doing something with it so many years after its creation simply because it had some value. When I first went into an old box and dug out this forgotten art from my days in Shinchon, Korea, I was awed by how adventurous it was, how different it was from my art now. Swept by this excitement, I started showing it on my different social media sites in the hopes of garnering interest in my origins before giving my followers views of my newer art. But then I started thinking about how this was a new forum for this work that never received any venue. My original intentions when I lived in Shinchon were for these tiny drawings to be cards like you would find in a deck of Tarot but with concrete storytelling potentials. I moved from Shinchon before I could fulfill my storytelling plans, but when I started scrutinizing them recently, they were giving me a view at something cohesive.
I was now looking for a reason for this body of work because I was seriously thinking of publishing them as decks of cards. To this end, I was plumbing the depths of old desires and plans, searching for the intentions behind the work, trying to recall where I was in life and what was important to me. It was not easy. I ended up grouping decks according to both the subject matter and to the emotive quality behind the images. I was also comparing the cards that included text with those that didn’t, and in those that had text, I distinguished between the text that was personal and the text that was not. Looking through three hundred drawings, I formed five decks. And suddenly, I did find a latent story between these decks of cards, and I promptly sutured them together as one long narrative worthy of a graphic novel format. I was even entertaining the possibilities of an actual printed book to go along with the cards. To me, there was an actual story flying through the images, even if their connection was tenuous.
Finally, I showed them to my wife, and unfortunately, she found very little connection to the narrative sequences. She thought it was not likely the viewers would find anything there as far as a narrative. And she was right. The story I thought was there relied on much too much abstraction. Many of the images were already abstracted in some way, even if the images were mostly figurative. On top of that, the esoteric text supplied another level of abstraction. And if there was also abstraction in their logical sequence on top of it all, then that would be a third level, which meant that the adhesive I was using to put this alleged narrative together had no sticking power.
It is interesting that even in abstraction, you need something concrete to bind it all or it won’t make any sense. In the old days, an abstract painting had a title, which might not provide much, but at least it grounded the work. My wife suggested a couple things. They were subjects, in a sense; she asked me why I didn’t group them into one deck of portraits, and another of landscapes, and such — and forget about trying too many things at once.
My wife made me realize that I was complicating the issue. I was now going to stick to the basics. Alas.