Since arriving in France in 2006, Korean artist Sun Young Min has focused her expansive creative practice on images of flora intuitively rendered in acrylic on canvas. “Everything is expressed through flowers,” she says, as she mobilizes the traditional Western genre of nature morte to address questions of youth, mortality and the passage of time. Formally emphasizing the gulf between jeunesse and maturity, Sun Young Min pushes some parts of the canvas to a very high finish while leaving others only just beginning.
At times, she scratches her compositions with a metal sponge, preempting the natural process of decay.
Clearly informed by “traditional Oriental painting,” Sun Young Min also channels the intense pools of color and grand sense of space that define Abstract Expressionist Helen Frankenthaler’s landscapes.
Sun Young Min’s work also echoes the rich narratives and expressive palette of Cy Twombly, who Sun Young Min cites as a key reference. Her creative process starts with an intense and deeply personal period of writing. She does not work from sketches or reference photographs, only the tumultuous, and sometimes humorous, wanderings of her mind. “My sketches are my writing,” she explains, preparing her to complete each cycle of unique works with passion and speed.
The irises that populated Sun Young Min’s Jardin Coréen embody the artist’s unique position between Europe and Asia. The flower many see as the inspiration for France’s heraldic symbol of the fleur-de-lis, for Sun Young Min, also reveals her Oriental side, an icon of Korea, where a rainbow of varieties blossom in late Spring and early Summer. But Sun Young Min’s irises are not only scepters of place and identity; in her work they have become autonomous creatures, charged with an evolving range of emotions and energies. The large scale of her work allows her flowers a dynamic corporality that demands a physical encounter with her viewer. Lately, Sun Young Min sees her irises becoming less Eastern and more European. Her once “timid and mysterious” canvases, “rich in blues and purples” are becoming “confident, sexual… Parisian, even!” The most exciting part of her work is the visible struggle between extremes. On her canvases East meets West with the same overwhelming intensity that the inevitability of death faces the vibrancy of life.– Lillian Davies
Lillian Davies is an art historian and critic specializing in modern and contemporary art. She is a professor of Fine Arts at Paris College of Art and a regular contributor to Artforum magazine, among other international publications.