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CAR Artist Story

Cheonae Kim @ Zolla Lieberman
April 17 – June 6, 2009

Zolla Lieberman Gallery

For over a decade, Cheonae Kim has been exhibiting playful yet rigorous paintings that explore and extend the possibilities of geometric abstraction. In Murmur, her new exhibition at Zolla Lieberman Gallery, the artist continues to mine this tradition while positioning her work firmly in the current century.

Kim structures her meticulous paintings with strong vertical and horizontal lines. Despite their formal rigor, none of the works is exclusively self-referential. Rather, the paintings refer to people and places, music, mathematics, the play of light and the passage of time. All are sized to the human body. The smallest works fit in the hand, while the largest do not exceed viewer height.

Aligning the works with the body renders them user-friendly, as does Kim’s choice and treatment of paint. Her palette is bright, clean and reminiscent of paint samples at a hardware store. The artist uses flashe, which has a smooth, milky finish that absorbs light softly. The flashe is applied thinly, without inflection or complication. In some of the works, the paint has been sanded down to expose the wood surface. The stripes surrounding these sanded sections push forward, giving depth to the picture plane.

Kim subtly exploits other optical tricks to activate her surfaces and pop the paintings into the viewing space. By cutting short a stripe’s horizontal journey with a slender vertical rectangle, Kim can make it appear as if the panel’s corner has been removed. On other works, stripes that wrap around the edges of the panel create the illusion of cut-outs. As the works oscillate between two and three dimensions, a rhythm develops, complemented by the rhythm of colorful stripes and evenly spaced panels.

This rhythm has mathematical connotations, most notably in multi-panel works such as Suzanne and Cliff E., which become progressively segmented by larger prime numbers of stripes. When read from left to right, both works visually manifest the idea of infinity (for the primes are an infinite subset among the natural numbers) as well as the concept of approaching a limit in calculus.

Murmur, the show’s pièce de résistance, also utilizes a prime (13) for its number of panels. The work, comprised of thin, vertical stripes of red and blue, is dazzling in its simplicity and effect. Where the stripes meet in the center of each panel, they are slightly offset. This shift intensifies the optical vibration of the work, which already comes from pairing vivid, primary colors. When seen from an oblique angle, the vibration stops, and the work’s surface is bathed in a soothing reddish-purple. In Murmur—as in all her paintings—Kim choreographs line, form, space and color in a nimble dance that moves from object to illusion, and back again. The result is a body of work that is exacting in its execution and bracing in its viewing.

(Published in Chicago Artists' News, June 2009, Volume 36, Number 6.)