Kingston Gallery artist On-Kyeong Seong talks about the making of her work for the exhibition, Embedment, and her unique process:
Your practice of pushing the painted canvases through a sewing machine is intriguing, as is the fact that many needles break during this process, raising issues of labor in the work. Can you further explain the connection between the physicality of making the work and the layered, tactile qualities you achieve? How does the practice influence the intent of the work?
I have to share my personal childhood story when people wonder about machine stitchery in my art work. When I was little, I still remember, my father wanted to be an artist and he practiced everyday, all day long. I was 5 or 6 years old at that time, and I loved to sit by him and play or draw while he painted. During that time he was a full-time painter, so my mother had to support our family to make a living. She quit her Kindergarten teaching job and instead did embroidery work at home with her special embroidery sewing machine. She made lots of beautiful embroidered bed covers. Whenever she was done with her work, she did additional embroidery work for the local factory. The sounds of the sewing machine while she worked were my lullaby at night. I believe those memories show up through the processes of the making of my work and in the abstract forms of organic layering with the inorganic geometric surfaces within my work.
There is a tension between the geometric backgrounds and the organic, floral forms stitched and painted into the foregrounds of the work. It often feels as if the organic forms are reasserting themselves over the architectural components. How would you describe the interplay between the foreground and background elements? Are there specific examples of interactions between man-made and natural forms you are working from?
Over the years environmental issues have been very big concerns for me. Ever since my father was ill and passed away from cancer, I have researched cancer cells desperately and learned that many diseases arise due to environmental changes and pollution. People think that we live with up-to-date technology. It makes me wonder why there are so many diseases still uncured. These ideas give me a lot of questions and I want to integrate them into human made structures vs. organic forms, representing the origins of nature, as well as the pollution of nature.
Also showing at the Kingston Project Space is work by Kingston Gallery artist Vaughn Sills. Her exhibition is titled, Inside Outside. She discusses her process and insights below:
The vibrant colors in the photographs speak to both natural and artificial aspects of beauty. Is the constructed nature of beauty a consideration in your still life set-ups? Can you expand on how beauty is a part of your images and your creative process?
In nearly all of my work, I am interested in how nature influences us and how we influence nature. In this work, Inside Outside, the influence is seen most obviously in how humans have cultivated flowers for their beauty: from wild flowers, humans have nurtured, propagated, and intentionally bred plants to create particular blossoms and accentuate certain colors to appeal to our aesthetic sense. I don’t think I would say that those colors are artificial – rich deep colors can be found in wild meadows on mountains and beside craggy rocks near the shore.
Flower gardens, which are after all, decorative gardens, have in many cultures traditionally been created and taken care of by women. For many women the garden was one of the few places where their creativity and artistry was given a place to exist. I honor that in these photographs. However, human activity has created climate change – so the land and sea (shown in the “backgrounds” to the flowers) are changing, and they sadly remind me also of how humans negatively effect the natural world.
Once I’ve chosen a bouquet of flowers, considering color and tonality and shapes, I select from my small library of sea- and landscapes in search of the one that will work best and set these up in my studio to work with the available natural light, which gives me reflections on the vase and shadows on the (photographed) sky. With these elements, I work to create a beautiful composition. I lean, consciously or not, on all that I’ve learned in my art education about what constitutes beauty (including ideas of beauty that have been questioned). While in some of my work, I have challenged what has been seen as beautiful in the dominant culture, in this work I am not doing that. I don’t think we need to be taught to admire a field of Queen Anne’s lace, a sunset, or a stormy sky over the sea. In these photographs I do seek to create beauty – a beauty that feels beyond social construction.
There is a quietness present in the work, as well as a sense of longing. Are there specific memories or stories you are thinking of when making the images? Can you share one or two?
I am working here within a tradition of still lifes, and by its very name, the term still life connotes mortality (the French term for still life is nature morte – in literal translation, “dead nature”) – just as all photography is about the past, or even death, as Roland Barthes wrote in Camera Lucida. Additionally, the sea and landscapes you see in these still lifes are from my series “True Poems Flee,” which is about grieving for my mother, about savoring who she was and our deep connection. Perhaps it is the influence of those landscapes that creates a sense of quiet longing. But when I’m setting up and photographing the still lifes, I don’t consciously think about my mother, about particular memories of my life as a child with her, or our more recent long walks beside fields of goldenrod or on the shore at low tide. Rather I am completely in the present, in the moment, with my chosen flowers, glass vase, and landscape photograph — seeing something come into being through my lens. When all the parts do come together – color, light, shapes, reflections, I am usually startled, excited, awash with a sense of the miracle of the scene. And I become consumed with figuring out how to create the photograph that will convey the fullness of my constructed still life. And while I realize the scene does include a mood and feelings, it isn’t about a memory or a particular story. Instead, these images describe a new experience for me, one that includes living with grief – through beauty.
On-Kyeong Seong: Embedment is on view in the Kingston Main and Center Galleries and Vaughn Sills: Inside Outside is on view in the Kingston Project Space February 5 through March 1, 2020. An opening reception will be held on Friday, February 7, 5-8pm. There also will be a Cupcakes & Conversation with the Artists event on Saturday, February 22, 2020, 3-5pm, with artists’ talks at 3:30pm.