Seeun Kim, Pothole Calling to, 2018, water-mixable oil on canvas, 78 3⁄4 × 70 7⁄8".

Seeun Kim, Pothole Calling to, 2018, water-mixable oil on canvas, 78 3⁄4 × 70 7⁄8".

Seeun Kim

The sixteen canvases making up Seeun Kim’s exhibition “Pitman’s Choice” evoked both the sea and the city, marked as they were with bleeding curves that suggested overpasses, bridges, and dunes, perpetually fusing and confusing the biomorphic and geometric. The thirty-year-old Korean painter’s palette of beach-house colors—tortoise shell, cabbage white, greens the shade of hedges—further jumbled the stairs, tunnels, and passageways of urban vistas with those of an architecture of the emotions. Scale became hard to gauge. The central mass in the earth-toned Leftover, 2017, could have been a root vegetable or an oversize water jug in a Giorgio Morandi still life, but the upper-left corner’s ladder or railing confused a close-up reading. In Oozing, 2018, slabs of a dirt-crust palette were edged in burnt shadows, while the cool flourishes and ripples of sea green in Pothole Calling to, 2018, suggested the pouring of a tall glass of water. Together, they called to mind the pictures of Miyoko Ito or Paul Klee, though Kim’s marks are more gestural than Ito’s smooth ores of gradated color and flow across the canvas to create perspectives deeper than those of Klee’s pictorial spaces. What they all share is a constant turning of the human-made inside out.

The protagonist of Division of Isles, 2017, was the wet darkness of an open body of water, where spurts of red folded into soft corners of a white tide, endless and entrapping. Trace the stretch marks unfurling where the momentum of a storm gathers: the sag of sand and skin, the empty spaces, the surface of a shifting mood. “The sea is a special kind of medium for modernism, because of its perfect isolation, its detachment from the social, its sense of self-enclosure,” observed Rosalind Krauss in The Optical Unconscious (1993), noting “above all, its opening onto a visual plenitude that is somehow heightened and pure, both a limitless expanse and a sameness, flattening it into nothing.”

But Kim has made paintings that are also postmodern portraits of municipal planning. The Seoul-born artist was raised in Bundang, part of the Seoul metropolitan area, a district built in the 1990s on what was formerly farmland. The accelerated development of an area that has transformed from an agrarian colony into a metropolis in a matter of decades was implied in the urban anatomies of canvases such as Activate, Under construction, and Yongsan round, all 2019. Though the forms in these works suggest structures designed to facilitate the flow of civilization, the landscapes are emphatically empty, deserted ghost stations of the underground. The rusted metal and concrete sprouts up like an undead, desiccated nature.