June 2019, Vol. 235, P8
Showcasing a group of finger paintings depicting nature, people, and various manifestations of Buddha, SCENTS, a solo exhibition of GuGu Kim (Korea, 1970), offers a glimpse of journey to enlightenment in life by conferring pleasure of labor and humility.  Presenting scrims made up of endless finger stamps and illuminating lights from inwards, SCENTS is an artist’s attempt to visualize scents of universal beings and deities.  GUGu Kim is primarily known for finger paint art and uses his own recipe of medium; mixture of powdered quartz, soot, graphite, pastel, and India ink. 

What does being an artist mean to you?

I believe the artist’s job is to inquire, question, though, there may not be an answer. In fact, I would rather be worn out than rotting away.  In my work, hundreds of thousands of fingerprints must be painted in order to create a work and this process is to me a performance of penance, love, art, and the life itself.

Have you always used fingerprints as a painting technique?

I was born and raised in the countryside of Gwangju, a province of Korea. When I was young, I used to play with charcoal, basically soots left from burning woods which was the main means of heating or cooking. And I used to make drawings in dirt or on paper with my hands, more precisely finger tips.  I remember that drawing with my fingers felt liberated but also fun.  Since then, I kept on using fingers to draw and paint throughout up to college days in art classes. I produced, I thought, better works by using fingers than using brushes. More importantly though, it was that awesome feeling of soft touch on canvas which in turn making imagination a reality, a work of art, with mere finger tips.  What a wonderful feeling that was!  I was mesmerized by this irresistible sensation felt from heart to tips of fingers, then back from the tips of fingers to heart.

What is the difference from using a regular paintbrush?

One of the most beautiful tools that human beings are endowed with is our body.  And most sophisticated means of communication is with body gestures that express feelings and thoughts. I feel most connected with my art when I use fingers instead of brushes.  It is most direct way of communicating myself with my creation, an art. It eliminates unnecessary intermediaries between me and my art.

What thoughts accompany your artistic gesture?

Style of painting does not really matter to me, I am more interested in what I choose to draw as subjects.  I am also not concerned with where I may belong in terms of, so called, a mainstream art.  My artistic gestures are rather instinctive. I am after the ultimate sentiment shared between artist and viewer.

You have a special relationship with food, flavors and scents. How does this relate to your artworks?

Actually, SCENTS is not related or referred to food, flavors, or pregnancies.  It is about scents of all beings in the universe. Humans, animals, plants, do communicate with their scents for affection to survival.  And scents are uniquely unique that no beings ever share exactly same scents as if they are the authentic markings for each beings.

What themes do you address in SCENTS, your new exhibition in Venice?

As curator Jennifer Baahng states, SCENTS addresses “Profound and Mysterious” in all of us. SCENTS attempts to visualize scents of universal beings and deities in temporal as well as spatial dimensions, presenting scrims made up of endless finger stamps.  SCENTS offers an artist’s glimpse of journey to enlightenment in life by conferring joy of labor and deliverance of compassion

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