“Secret Garden,” Moon Beom’s sixth solo exhibition at Kim Foster Gallery, New York, introduces a new series featuring “cabbage-like” florets of oilstick smeared across acrylic surfaces of varying hues. At times these works elicit an experience akin to walking through a foggy mountain peak while at others they recall the wonder found in observing a small organism through a microscope. This play of scale begets an encounter that is both spiritual and corporeal.
Upon entering the exhibition the viewer is greeted by shades of light ivory and jade green, as well as of red, mauve and ultramarine blue. The colors are subdued by the darker foliage forms that expand across their surfaces. The vibrant ultramarine blue of Secret Garden #270_ultramarine blue, gold (2013), for example, is tempered by the gold oilstick that partially obscures it, which creates a gradient effect. Similarly, in Secret Garden #545_red, black, acrylic (2013) the foliage appears like smoke, diffusing the red background while lending the composition a mask of airiness.
While the paintings prove Moon’s mastery of his medium, the artist is not content to simply lean on his technical skills. The visual continuity of this recent work conceals the variety of experimentation in his oeuvre. Moon is of the Postwar generation of artists in Korea who had ample access to Western influences. Now in his early sixties, he has gone through many stages of transformation, from Jasper Johns-esque insertions of foreign materials onto the surfaces of paintings to pop-culture pastiches inspired by Robert Rauschenberg. Moon’s recent work, however, does not readily fit into any one of these art historical categories, proving that the artist has developed a visual language of his own.
Strongly opposed to mimesis, Moon’s mentality is perhaps more reminiscent of traditional Korean ink painting—more about contemplation than the physical representation of reality. The title “Secret Garden,” while alluding to a physical location, also refers to the metaphorical space of painting itself, indicating the artist’s discovery of his own cosmology. In his non-representation, Moon is neither completely abstract nor conceptual, but rather attempts to meld the two approaches in order to create something beautiful.
Moon’s innovation lies in his acknowledgment of limitations and his transgression of them. While following the pattern with one’s eyes, the artist’s movements are evident. One does not sense an artist who is suffocating, but rather one who has built a dwelling for himself that is both pleasurable and boundless.