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Sun Sook Kim’s Healing Art

By Mary Gregory

In some cases, it’s possible to look at a work of art with no knowledge or consideration of its creator. In fact, for many works that have come down to us through time, we never know who made them. In other cases, it’s impossible to separate the art from the life of the artist. The paintings and drawings of Sunsook Kim are completely intertwined with her experiences. Through her visual art, she draws a map to her own center.



Sometimes it seems impossible. There is no way to get from here to there. My bones are heavy. A rock sits in my body. My mind is full of “no” – no way, no more. Done. Finished.

The very idea of squeezing paint out is horrible, futile and wasteful. I am full of distain and tiredness. It feels like depression. It grips the body in the same way. It seems to have the same pathology. It plays the same tune. But it is not depression. I know this place. I have been here before – many times.

Usually it kicks in when I return to the studio after being away. It is especially likely after a week or two of teaching when I am talking, talking , talking. I talk about our natural creativity, about how when painting goes well it is easy. I work with people on how to deal with difficulties. It seems to know that all this talk ‘about’ things, separates me from my silent work. It can tell I get too cocky. I start to believe what I say. I’m in the words of possibility not the reality of it, which can only be found in the work itself.. I’m in the propaganda. I become an easy target busy with my mind and the ideals, constructs and methodology of painting. Words words words. I forget that it has to be met where it lives and for the painter this is in the studio, alone. I forget that I have to go like Joyce advocated, “for the millionth time to confront the reality of experience.” Each time a confrontation – each time a new thing. I forget the advice of Shitao that here in this place, “no method is perfect method.”


Earthly Delights in Norristown – Emily Erb and Nakima Ollin at Pagus

November 29, 2011   ·   by Becky Hunter

I still feel a bit like the new girl in town: keen to explore the city and its surroundings, discover interesting art and meet new people. It was lovely, therefore, to find myself in West Philly artist Nakima Ollin’s car last Saturday, driving to see the two-person show Earthly Delights in the Norristown Arts Building. Pagus Gallery’s large, bright space and winding corridors were filled with two artists’ works: Ollin’s intricate paintings and drawings and Emily Erb’s large-scale, dyed silk works.

Emily Erb, Garden of Earthly Delights


Emily Erb, Garden of Earthly Delights, detail

Tyler School of Art grad Emily Erb’s complex dye-on-silk piece The Garden of Earthly Delights (2011) inspires the exhibition’s title. Spanning more than six by fourteen feet, the triptych compositionally shadows its early Netherlandish namesake by master painter Hieronymus Bosch. But contemporary themes are at play. Erb replaces Bosch’s mythical creation and damnation scenes with a humorous reversal of evolution in which apes and humans exchange roles.

Emily Erb, Native Languages of North America

Erb’s silk painting Native Languages of North America (2011) combines elements of skilled craft, meticulous research, and scrawled, anthropological diagramming. A dyed map of North America is carved up with gilt fabric pen lines and a colored key according to the languages once (and sometimes still) spoken in each area: Eskimo Aleut, Uto-Aztecan, and Zuni are just a few of them. It’s a powerful work of mourning for lost cultural diversity and, like the rest of her map pieces on display, pushes emotion and critical thinking into productive friction.

Nakima Ollin, I-95

Ollin’s small, tightly observed cityscapes and industrial still lifes strike color chords in a restrained palette of blues, peachy-pinks, and browns. Working primarily in hand-mixed egg tempera – a medium that demands fine attention to detail – Ollin’s surfaces are tactile mosaics of tiny, deeply felt marks.  I-95 traces the effects of light on rusted, interwoven refinery pipes against a dramatic Philadelphia sky.

Nakima Ollin, City 2


The looser oil on panel City 2 (2011) signals a new direction for Ollin. Oil paint’s flexibility allows her to extract and extend the abstract gestures that hover at the edges of her observational paintings. The effect is of luminous, liberated representation, recalling Brazilian, London-based painter Varda Caivano‘s equally modest works that merge figuration and abstraction. Caivano’s aim is to create “a bridge, a transitional space that evokes an inner world.” This deeper meaning in everyday objects and experiences is something that City 2 also reaches towards, and I look forward to further developments in this vein in Ollin’s works.

The show runs until December 2. It’s definitely worth the drive or regional rail trip out.

–Becky Hunter, who recently moved to Philadelphia from London, writes about art on her blog and at Art Papers, Sculpture and White Hot Magazine.



It is almost a hundred years since my uncle died in France in the trench warfare of the First World War.  Most families have war stories – they punctuate and warp the family’s movement through time.

They embed themselves into pillars of consciousness. We are haunted by the lies, the atrocities and the awesome, strange courage of soldiers. They move through our psyches, staying close in, even if they seem distant and foreign from our daily lives.

My uncle is close in with me. His loss and its impact on his father and my father resonate now in my studio. The ninety-seven years close like a telescope. That split second near La Bassée – they said he died instantly. They always said that they died instantly. Four hundred thousand lost over a few weeks at the Battle of Ypes. Just the start of a century of war stories and holocausts. It’s all personal. We get to carry our pieces – our fragments.

Time in a drawing is a strange thing. It is part of what is needed for the drawing to come in. Without this quality it will not belong – it will not take its place – it will not sit right. I work away trying to crack the surface of the drawing – to open up space. Time needs space to unfold, to inhabit. How it happens is mysterious. It appears unknowable. Sometimes I just smash the drawing, strip it down, roughly, with frustration, scraping and slashing the surface and it just falls open. There it is. The quiet. The silence. Sometimes it is coaxed out and opens slowly like a flower. Other times it comes unnoticed – I leave a drawing that I believe to be in process and I come back the next day and it is there. Done. I think of Einstein’s metaphor of a permanently sealed clock that you can never open. You can only observe from the outside – speculate, hypothesize – the secret of the universe evidenced by the ticking and the turning.

My uncle Lieutenant Stanley Hawkesworth’s death was on the 25th of January 1915. His name was listed on the casualty list on the 27th which would have been his 21st birthday. I think of my own son just past twenty-one. I think of his Bar Mitzvah when he was fourteen. Rites of passage. My dad was fourteen when his brother died. He turned his grief into a loyalty to the British Empire so deeply held that he could not forgive Gandhi – too much loss – too much investment – too many lies – too much heart break. Gandhi saw clearly. He saw the tyranny playing out on the streets of India. He also understood that although it was propelled by power, money, racism and brutality it was backed by a set of ideas touched by conscience. Just enough so that he could show them up, and he did. It fell open. His discipline and clarity bringing power to its knees – the alchemy of a seer – a steady gaze.

My Grandfather, as the vicar of the Church of England in Ambleside, had to summon himself up to lead his parish as the devastation of loss spread through the countryside like a plague – random, dropped house after house, family after family, death by death. ”They will not grow old like we that are left grow old” reads the village memorial. A trick of time. A turning of the screw. My Grandfather died that year. His heart gave out. My father lived, but not to grow old. The workings of the clock are hidden from us. As Jorge Luis Borges say: “Know this: in some way you are already dead….a marble slab is saved for you, one you won’t read.” Don’t be so sure about the marble slab Mr. Borges, my uncle got a makeshift cross in a churchyard in Givenchy. He was one of the lucky ones – found in one piece – not piled up with others – bulldozed.

Strange that thought – in some way I am already dead – and my uncle vibrant in his loss and promise here in my studio. His photo is earnest in the “Roll of Honor” newspaper cutting. I must remember to give my children a copy even though they seem freed of these matters, constructed in another force field.

Time sits inside me, like in the drawings, holding itself wider than the illusions of myself, my life. It is more a dream state. It lifts me up and opens my consciousness. It is delicious, spacious, this now. It breaks open and shatters into a million pieces – part of the dissolution.

Quote: Jorge Luis Borges poem ’To the One Who is Reading This’



Tim Hawkesworth
The monks say they take custody of their eyes – no casual glancing or watching – always mindful of the effect of their gaze. This is a strong holding of their nature.

Writing now – a painter writing. Why? Why this briar patch? What is this ambition – this hungry voice? This need to be met? To find out? To reveal? – to be seen and to see from the inside out?

I’ve been trained to be linear in writing. Born in a fluid loaded culture, haunted like all culture, but for me strangely out of reach – like this writing thing. It makes me shrink up inside. I need to start the rattle – the rock in a box rattle – the snakes rattle – the hooves on the stones – remembering the way sounds make space – pinning my mind to place and history. The sound of a bicycle thrown against the wall. The axe deep into the soft wood. The chainsaw across the valley. Now it is the suburb’s lawn mower. Same ears – same comfort –work being done – things looked after – tended. Shared planet. Tribe.


Thinking About Everything And Nothing

Carl Belz

Nothing is everything. The existential proposition is appealing, particularly in relation to visual art. But not all of it. Not art that originates in the purposeful urge to engage directly social or political issues and concerns, for instance, or undertake partisan cultural or institutional critique, or promote exclusively an ideology of one sort or another–in other words, and regardless of quality, not art that’s subsumed first and last by service to a personal agenda or theoretical program. Instead, art that addresses the ways of the world from a position that’s oblique to them, art that is self-aware in acknowledging its limits and autonomous in its being–art as art that stakes its all on being knowable in and of itself and is otherwise good for nothing. And why does such art mean everything to us? Because its ongoing process of knowing and acknowledging is synonymous with the experience of coming to ourselves from within rather than without, and too because it so candidly mirrors what modern experience–what our being in the world in the first place–is itself all about.

The art I’m referring to, modernist art, includes the paintings in this exhibition, a genre of abstraction representing a vital thread within the larger fabric of abstract painting, one whose history now reaches back a full century.