Nancy Kwon Clear with Rising Mist

In Clear with Rising Mist, LA-based Nancy Kwon explores the atmospheric, nostalgic and emotional potential of landscapes, particularly with reference to East Asian landscape painting and poetry from the 12th to 18th centuries, including the oeuvres of Song dynasty Chinese painter Xia Gui, Joseon dynasty Korean artist Jeong Seon, and Persian lyrical poet Hafiz. “I was thinking about the whole practice of landscape painting throughout East Asia – how travelling to beautiful landscapes created such an outpouring of creative expression that lasted centuries,” she says. “I’m intrigued by the idea of these artists observing the beauty of their surroundings and immortalising them through poetry and painting, in turn inspiring myths and nostalgic notions about the past. There was a movement towards unifying landscape, human form, and all elements of nature – I wanted to draw on this in my own pieces.”


Kwon’s ink rubbings, ceramic sculptures, moon jars, works in glass, and hanging scrolls relate to this theme to varying degrees. Her glass works, which are cast from a plaster mould formed around a clay positive, are named Sea and Mountains, while one of the ceramic tile works, Wild Geese Returning, is named for a late 15th century painting by an anonymous Korean artist. “I derived many of the titles from fragments of painting or poetry from that era,” Kwon says. Two of the scroll works in the show, The Sky is a Suspended Blue Ocean, and The Sun and All Light, both take their titles from lines in the poem Only One Rule by 12th century Persian poet Hafiz.


Kwon’s large ceramic vessel Gathering features a line drawing of a mountainous horizon running around the circumference. “The forms of the peaks are all inspired by fragments of mountains that appear in the paintings of Jeong Seon, a Korean landscape painter from the 17th and 18th centuries,” she says. “He is now considered one of the most famous Korean landscape painters of that time, and often created in the format of an album, with each leaf depicting a different scene of a particular mountain range, for example. One of his albums has been documented but is missing, Album of Transmitting the Spirit of Sea and Mountains. I have seen a lot of his work, but it was interesting to imagine what that collection of lost works might look like. The title is translated, but it has such a poetic beauty about it.”


This sense of longing relates to a wider meditation in Kwon’s recent work. “This past year I was thinking about loss, and how the experience of loss impacts the way you see the world,” Kwon says. “Traces that people, animals and nature leave behind feel amplified, and the world appears different than it did before. I think a lot of landscape paintings have a feeling of nostalgia, memory and loss to them; considering the idea of traces generates a similar kind of feeling for me. The process involved in making the ink rubbings is very connected to that, as is the method for creating the glass pieces, where I formed a mould from a clay positive and cast the cavity in glass. The glass becomes an imitation or echo of the clay, like a memory of the material.”


“I want to create some kind of beauty, to capture some element of the beauty of a place.” Kwon continues. “Ultimately, it is a gesture of care and love for earth and life.”