In both medium and content, Canadian-Korean artist Cindy Ji Hye Kim has become expert at laying bare the tensions between the visible and the hidden, with artworks that often push the sculptural and performative limits of the traditional two-dimensional painting surface.
In her latest body of work, created for an upcoming solo exhibition at rodolphe janssen titled Riddles of the Id (12 May–18 July 2020), Kim gives the supporting elements of painting their own starring role in the traditional picture plane. For three of the presented works, including Riddles of the Id (2020), she has carved figures and objects into the stretcher bars, with two of those paintings also executed on silk organza. Presented off the wall, the silk organza paintings are illuminated by the light from the windows, the images on the stretcher bars—the silhouettes of ribcages, parental figures, and other objects melding with and complicating painted forms, such as vines and mice—cast onto the fabric's front-face.
In this latest group of works, Kim also demonstrates a continued study of grisaille, a monochromatic drawing method traditionally utilised as an underpainting scheme from which an engraver makes a print, or in imitation of sculpture. Grisaille highlights the dream state of paintings such as Female Legacy (2020), an image rendered in charcoal, oil pastel and ink showing a woman's legs with her underpants pulled down to her calves in a dark room, whose cartoon-like quality pulls on tensions between innocence and experience.
The characters Kim presents in Riddles of the Id belong to a recurring cast, which Kim first experimented with as an undergraduate student of illustration at Rhode Island School of Design, and then refined while a graduate student at Yale School of Art. These characters consist of a family triad formed of a man in a tall hat, a mid-century housewife-type, and a faceless schoolgirl, who populate the artist's ominous scenes as both physical and conceptual bodies. Kim has said that she imagines the man and woman—Mister Capital and Madame Earth, respectively—having birthed the schoolgirl; the three interact across tense planes of power and control, the parents looming as forceful authority figures while the child struggles between repression and desire. Using such dramatis personae, the artist embeds the muffled violence of waking life into heightened dream-tableaux.
With compositions populated by archetypal characters, Kim's paintings appear potentially allegorical, yet no definitive moral conclusion ever fully comes to the surface in the artist's work. Instead, characters remain ensnared within the wheels of their tense scenes, with any opportunity for relief from corporeal and psychological chaos only leading further into the id's labyrinth. Recalling an unbreakable cycle, a circular motif serves to emphasise this feeling of entrapment in Reign of the Idle Hands #4 (2020), a circular canvas reminiscent of a phenakistoscope—a Victorian-era toy in which drawn figures on a circular piece of cardboard are animated when the cardboard is spun. But where the phenakistoscope should produce movement, Reign of the Idle Hands #4 is imprisoned in a single moment.
In this conversation with Ocula Magazine, Kim discusses the material and conceptual underpinnings of her exhibition at rodolphe janssen, and the spectre of violence that lingers over nature and individuals in conscious and subconscious realms.