ARTimes, November 1990, Ik-Joong Kang

Throw everything and add, Montclair State University, NJ


Marion Budick



Where does an artist store 1,000 paintings? If the artist is Ik-Joong Kang, the answer is: in a large suitcase.


Each of Kang¡¯s paintings is exactly 3x3 Inches, that is.  Except for their Lilliputian size, however, most of them are of traditional construction: a standard canvas stretched and stapled to a wood frame.  He works in oil, acrylic, plastic liquid, watercolor and Sumi ink.  Some of the tiny canvases also have found objects attached or arranged in glassed-over ¡°windows¡± in their centers.


Kang began working in this scale in 1984.  ¡°Since then,¡± he says, ¡°I¡¯ve never left the house without an empty canvas in my pocket.¡±

He often paints on the street or on subway trains.  In fact, the idea for the small paintings first came to him from the tile walls that line most subway stations.  

¡°From a distance,¡± he explains, ¡°it looks like one big tile wall, but up close, each tile stands alone.¡±  In his mind it seemed like Zen art, in which, he says, the idea space is 3¡± x 3¡±. ¡°It is like a Japanese Shoji screen that divides areas of a house. Each small square is part of a bigger space.¡±


Kang arrived in the United States seven years ago after receiving a BFA in painting from Hong-Ik University in Seoul, Korea.  Three years ago he received an MFA from Pratt Institute and has since dedicated himself fulltime to painting.

¡°When I first came to this country, everything was so new that I wanted to immerse myself in every new sight and sound and taste.¡± ¡°From the beginning, Kang began picking things up off the street to incorporate in his paintings, from broken toys to candy wrappers. ¡°Collecting these materials from everywhere I go became an important routine in my daily life,¡± he says.


Kang and his wife now live in Manhattan¡¯s Chelsea district.  His diminutive studio is 20 blocks south on lower Broadway. Although his training has been as a painter, Kang considers himself a performance artist.  His ¡°performances,¡± which he has given in Soho and Brooklyn galleries, consists of creating his little painting in front of the guests.


To date, Kang has completed some 8,000 canvases, working on 10 or 12 a day.  At first, he sold individual paintings. Then it dawned on him that he was depleting his inventory.  Now he sells an idea for a story that can be assembled in an infinite number of ways depending on the canvases selected and how they are arranged.

He also has 1,000 sound paintings.  ¡°I go the idea from a Christmas card someone sent me last year.  It had a melody chip inside that played a tune when you opened the card.¡± With the help of a computer literate friend, Kang installed tiny speakers behind each 3¡± square canvas.  Controlled by a MAC computer, 10 amplifiers will eventually connect to 10,000 different speakers, each amplifier controlling 1,000 speakers, from which will come a fusillade of musical sounds from contemporary avant-garde to traditional Korean. ¡°I¡¯m trying to create ¡®total art,¡¯¡± he says.  ¡°Traditionally, people went to a gallery just to see art.  I want them to be able to immerse themselves in it, to be able to ¡®see and hear¡¯ a painting.  I¡¯d like to convert a gallery into a visual concert hall.¡±


In the near future, Kang plans to travel to several countries in Africa as well as to China and Czechoslovakia. He says he¡¯s like to ¡°conduct¡± the works and let people from the different countries paint them.  ¡°I want to invite them to play with their imaginations in my world.¡±