Creating bold, reductive images that appear charged with spontaneity and immediacy, Ehja Kang’s paintings and installations converse with the traditions of painterly abstraction that have been ongoing in California since the ‘50s. Constructing allusions to space, time, and memory, her works explore the meaning and significance of color, often setting luminous passages against those of impenetrable darkness. While occasionally the contour of a leaf, tree, mountain, or figure seems to appear, for the most part Kang’s works allude only indirectly to the world of appearances, exploring instead terrains of the psyche and mind.

In marked contrast to the conceptual and often cynical approaches that abound in today’s artworld, Kang’s works project improvisation and charm. Simulating the liberated freedom of a child, Kang’s pieces extend Modernist premises that value immediate, over rational, experience. Seemingly childlike, her sophisticated works manifest an interest in the processes of making art, embodying traces of consciousness as inscribed in notations related to intuition and instinct. 

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Using color along with gesture, she conjures voids and objects, air and earth, fire and water, light and mass. Her intense color harmonies celebrate life’s triumphs one moment and whisper of its restraints and struggles the next.  In paintings filled, for example, with the somber intensity of ochres, siennas, and browns, Kang introduces a touch of chartreuse green or hot pink creating the illusion of light amidst an otherwise dankly shaded realm. Other works balance radiant yellow passageways against haunting terrains of dark cobalt, mid-night blue, and brown.  Evoking and expressing sensations of the body and mind, these works manifest a breadth of experience that is both delicate and deep.       

In endowing terrain, time, and memory with physical form, Kang’s compositions variously travel above, across, or into space. Conjuring expansive as well as stifling places and conditions, some of her newest works simultaneously embrace multiple spatial perspectives, whispering as it were that the reality of seeing is rarely linear and straightforward. Rather, as the modular-unit compositions seem to insist, perception is usually an aggregated sum of many parts. Up close, these pieces are in actuality collections of smaller paintings that present visual ruminations on a given concept or theme. While her subjects are rarely identified by title, their essence is invariably embodied in the images themselves. Though often hidden and veiled, the atmospheric and spatial references of these works construct landscapes and environments moored in psychological and physical realities. Further, in granting viewers multiple glimpses of a larger whole, these works bespeak a philosophical approach to life that acknowledges flux and change as more significant than any singular truth.

The grid-like forms that serve as the organizational format for the modular-unit paintings emphasize these concerns as well. Quite distinct from the more individualized voice that is given free rein on the surfaces of these images, their rationally structured grid composition underscores such social realities as predictability, continuity, regimentation, and order.  Literally setting an array of intuitive responses into a rationally structured, grid scheme, these works balance emotion and reason, acknowledging the significance of both worlds. Simultaneously random and structured, these pieces thus exemplify a working process that for all its alleged spontaneity and freedom is actually quite structured and sophisticated. 

Kang’s sculptural cluster-installations carry these explorations in additional directions. Presenting aggregate accumulations of painted boxes, gathered into a large mass on the floor, these works underscore her interests in forms that are simultaneously intuitive and rational. In resonance with the growing deconstruction of Modernism, these installations explore the interrelation between rational and random organization patterns and geometric and organic forms.  At the same time, with lyrical but haunting overtones, the installations evoke the rites of family and community life, echoing with memories of gift-giving seasons. Presenting mounds of gift boxes individually painted in colors ranging from the darkest blacks and blues to luminescent yellows, oranges, azure blues, and greens these works function as talisman of things once hidden and treasured but now gone. Simultaneously lyrical and nostalgic the installations evoke both the memory and the continuity of cultural rituals and their passage. 

Infusing heightened color contrasts with emotional verve and vigor, Kang’s abstractions extend and revitalize the legacies of abstraction. Marked by intuition and instinct, these works present an aesthetics that is playful, poetic, and poignant. 

- Collette Chattopadhyay (Contributing Editor; Artweek, Sculpture, ART Asia Pacific)