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Putting a pop art smiley face on ancient concepts

CARTOON-LIKE Dongguri, a smiley-face figure, is typically classified as a pop art character. But he is depicted with classical Asian elements by his South Korean creator. Zhou Tao explains.

Rising South Korean pop artist Kwon Ki-Soo is versatile in painting, sculpture and animation but he is best known for his smiley-face cartoon named Dongguri.

Unisex Dongguri has a round face, boxy body and stick arms and legs, and he/she/it often appears in Kwon's works.

Kwon's works, including Dongguri in many situations, are exhibited in the newly opened Bamboo Art Space next to M50 art space on Moganshan Road. It opens today.

Bamboo Art Space, established by the well-known 1918 Art Space, is dedicated to all types of contemporary art and culture-related events, exhibitions and performances in its two-floor, 400-square-meter space.

Kwon, who was born in 1972, brings a brand-new series of acrylic paintings. This will be Kwon's first solo show in Shanghai. In 2006, he impressed visitors with an 8-meter-high balloon of Dongguri in the main hall.

Dongguri is a simple line character and looks more like a computer-generated image than a painting. Dongguri has received wide exposure in the contemporary art field in South Korea. The image is also seen in commercial spin-offs and toys.

Dongguri is popular among young Koreans because the character meets the needs of the next generation and expresses the latest trends; it reflects the fashion and material culture promoted by the mass media.

Because of the use of pop art language and material as well as its development in the toy and souvenir market, Kwon's works are often classified into a new pop art category. But this is an over-simplification.

Instead, viewers need to focus more on how the artist conceives the works, and the sources of his creation.

Kwon creates more than Dongguri; his backgrounds contain symbols repeated time and again. Favorite symbols include the plum blossom, orchid, bamboo and chrysanthemum. These four plants are widely occurring elements in traditional paintings in China, South Korea and Japan. Scholars often paint them to symbolize their inner peace and spirituality.

Kwon's creation is actually a reproduction of traditional elements in a new form. Instead of sophisticated techniques, his works take a highly simplified modern form.

From ancient times in Asia, not only plants, but also creeks, springs and rocks represent the artists' view of nature. In Kwon's works, the place where Dongguri acts is filled with curve-shaped creeks, cubic rocks, springs and fountains made of spirals.

The color of the paintings varies from time to time, representing the four seasons, while the small elements of nature symbolize the vast landscape.

As with ancient Oriental artists and scholars, Kwon's works with these scenarios communicate the harmony, order and delicate relationships between human beings and the universe - not the human's conquest of everything.

They express a surreal spirit while they do not try to imitate reality in an ordinary perspective. The landscapes go beyond techniques and form a metaphysical sign.

Date: May 9-June 8, 10:30am-6:30pm

Address: Bldg 8, 20 Moganshan Rd

Tel: 5228-6776, 5306-4950


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