Sunday Star-Ledger/ December 9, 1990

Exhibit features thousands of pocket-sized paintings

Montclair State University, NJ


Eileen Watkins



A writer may carry in his pocket a small journal, in which to record his every passing thought, and eventually have a piece of work that is interesting enough to publish.


Artists have been known to do the same thing with sketchbooks.  New Yorker Ik-Joong Kang takes the idea a step further, though; he never leaves home without a pocket-sized canvas.


Each of his three-by-three-inch compositions becomes either a painting or a collage, reflecting his mood or observation of the moment.  He groups thousand of these for a startling installation on view through Dec. 19 at Montclair State College.


The Korean-born artist calls his show, in the College gallery, ¡°Ssound Paintingss.¡±  It covers three walls, two of them featuring 3,000 ¡°visual paintings¡± each, and the center one displaying 1,000 canvases backed with speakers that broadcast sounds.  Although most of his works could be described as introspective and postmodernist, they cover a wide range of styles, from near-realism to constructivist assemblage.


Kang got the idea for the small scale of his individual paintings from the wall tiles he observed in the New York City subways.  He says their square shape, vast number and tiny rows reminded him of Zen art, which utilizes many smaller screens to create its structure.


He began working on the tiny canvases in 1984, and says that since then, ¡°I¡¯ve never left the house without an empty canvas in my pocket.¡±  Kang works while riding the subway or walking down the street, trough what he calls ¡°the desire of digesting ideas as much as possible, and as quickly as possible.¡±


The speakers of his sound paintings are controlled by 10 different monitors, each producing one single sound and one visual image.  All are connected by black or red wires, which represent the blood vessels of human body, to a central monitor, signifying the heart.


The Montclair installation nicely captures the onslaught of endless ideas that passes through the human mind, even in the course of one day or one hour.  Spontaneous and uncensored, they include a fair number that are vulgar, in both sexual and scatological terms.  The occasional four-letter words and graphic image do not, however, convey real hostility.  Sometimes the mood expressed is mild irritation, but more often it is bemusement at our physical foibles.  In either case, it is often funny.  There is a visual reference here or there to a controversial Robert Mapllethorpe image, underscored by one ironic panel that reads ¡°Safe Art.¡±


Kang¡¯s miniaturized graffiti also include rather original religious slogans, such as ¡°I O God¡± and ¡°God is Power,¡± and pithy observations about nationalism and interpersonal relationships.  Visually, he offers cartoonlike scenes of warplanes and tanks, hovering spaceships and grinning aliens, which could come from the margins of a schoolboy¡¯s notebook.  Among these, he juxtaposes more haunting images such as melancholy portraits; silhouettes of lonely, mysterious dogs: sinister snake heads; minimal landscapes, and colorful, freehand, abstract designs.  There are some fairly realistic depictions of birds and insects.


In addition, he creates tiny assemblages built around found objects such as a small propeller, a shapely Barbie doll leg, a plastic flower, a toy bomber, a shaving brush and a glass doorknob.  Nailheads from large, crisp numbers.  A hand-printed phrase may relate to a painted or collaged image – Kang tells us concerning a scrap of sharp metal, ¡°It made my tire flat on a rainy day.¡±  Most of the time, we are given only the provocative statement, such as ¡°I don¡¯t paint for the world,¡± ¡°Someday I will leave me,¡± and ¡°Bad Art = Good Art.¡±  One square says flatly, ¡°This is a painting without picture.¡±


The sounds, as far as I could distinguish them during my visit, divide up into three or four types: lilting flute music, Oriental singing, falling rain, and explosions that might have been thunderclaps or crashing waves.  Like the pictures themselves, they merge the natural and the man-made, in a tolerable cacophony.


Kang is now at work on a project called ¡° Journey of Small Paintings,¡± in which he hopes to involve thousands of participants living in seven different countries.  ¡°It allows entrance into the world of diverse ethnic groups and races scattered throughout many countries, to document various situations of creation,¡± he says.  The project is scheduled for exhibition at the Hunterdon Art Center, Clinton, in April 1992.