Ham Sup at Galeriasia


Ian Findlay

Since the early 1980s, Ham Sup has devoted himself to exploring the potential of hand-made Korean paper, hanji, in all its diversity. His move away from painting was motivated by a profound feeling both for his own culture and his belief that he had achieved his artistic limits with painting. In this exhibition, en-titled Revolution du Papierą▒, which features the Day Dream series, the boldness of his work is obvious to the eye, attracting a powerful response of appreciation not only for the dexterity of achievement, but also for the magical sense of imagery and texture.

Traditional Korean paper, made from the bark of the mulberry tree, consistently affords Ham Sup a new set of challenges as an innovative artist, far beyond those he found in painting. Perhaps the central challenge for him has been the exploration of the surface textures of hand-made paper which are so different from those of ordinary canvas and paint, There has also been the challenge of colors, finding a new range to fit within the textures of his paper, Yet, at the same time, while there are the obvious painterly challenges for Ham Sup to meet, there is a strong spiritual element motivating his creations, The varied textures that he is able to form with the paper are achieved by a thorough manipulation of the material; the physical effort of shaping the paper from one state to another frees the spirit and opens the mind to the potential of new imagery.

The entire process of preparation and creation of Ham Supí»s work has both rhythmic and architectural connotations, too, according to one writer on Ham Supí»s art, Brother Anthony of Taize. The immediate strength of his art comes from his use of paper, which occasionally appears to be merely supple bark stripped from the tree and applied directly but with a subtlety which that of Ham Supí»s art generally.
In his manipulation of the paper Ham Sup obtains a remarkable range of colors, from a rich creamy color to a natural brown. But strength is not only about a direct show of power, natural or man-made; it has much to do with the subtle combination of the elements which make up the image. In Ham Supí»s art it also comes from his use of calligraphy and his wonderful sense of color. The calligraphy from a distance works as a defining spatial element on the surface, but up close the from of each character tantalizes the eye.

His color, soft and muted, almost pastel-like in their quality of hues, are sparingly applied, breaking up the surface of the image to high-light the texture of the paper so that the eye travels over his work rather than fixes on any single element of his colors is well exemplified in his piece Day Dream 2032(200), At a distance this work appears to the eye as a subtle-colored tapestry at the center of some fine woven fibers, A closer look, however, reveals the sinuous-ness of Ham Supí»s use of pa-per, Day Dream 9961(1999)has a richness of surface textures which are enhanced by his fine placement of colors, each helping to build within the work a unique sense of visual rhythm which tease the eye over the surface.

It is not accidental that many of Ham Supí»s works re-mind one of walls in decay, particularly those frescos to be found in old temples where the plaster is cracked and flaking, and on whose surface the re-mains of ancient Chinese colophons or Buddhist texts are to be found, Excellent examples of this are Day Dream 9987(1999) and Day Dream 2080(2000), This fresco-like element is but one of interesting aspects of Ham Supí»s creations, His experience of rural Korea has given also Ham Supí»s work an element of the natural world, the land, a certain wonder at its power, its beauty, the cadence of the turning seasons, This is particularly strong in a work such as Day Dream 1002(2001) where the thick black lines would seem to divide the land.

Where one might see the hand of tradition laid heavy within Ham Supí»s works, then this is intentional, But the vision to be found within his art are all of a very modern artist. His desire to combine the traditional and the contemporary in a meaningful way adds significantly to the power of his art.. Yet, Ham Sup is also dealing with memory and dream which are important to our spirit and being, And hand in hand with this is the strongly meditative and ancient qualities that are to be found in all his art.