Minjung Kim was born in Gwangju in the Republic of Korea in 1962. She was taught by masters of calligraphy and traditional Korean painting already as a girl as well as later during her studies. Kim took a Master’s degree at Hong Ik University in Seoul in 1985 with a thesis on the four basic materials in ink painting. In 1991 she moved to Italy and studied at the Brera Academy in Milan, where she dedicated her research particularly to the analysis of works by Western artists who had studied 20th century Oriental painting.
To explore the relationship between Asian and Western techniques and concepts in art and find equilibrium between them has since become her principal theme and artistic endeavor. Passing down principles and philosophies, not only techniques and styles, is vital in the teaching of traditional Korean art. The training has provided her with a deep understanding of Korean philosophy, namely Buddhism and Taoism, whose notions of Yin and Yang, nature and culture, order and chaos, light and shadow continue to influence her. Now living mainly in Western cultures, Kim has absorbed and cultivated many independent strands of artistic legacies across cultures, and approaches these diverse legacies as a lived experience rather than abstract knowledge.
Kim always executes her pictorial work on the floor, in keeping with Asian tradition, as the floor is, both literally and metaphorically, the basic support for all painting. Kim has mastered two fundamental mediums that she mainly uses: mulberry Hanji paper and ink. Kim has for two decades now created shapes and layered compositions with that paper by burning the edges or perforating it with the flame of a candle or incense. She is essentially drawing the lines with fire, not a pen, the burnt edges casting a brownish shadow onto the paper. For Kim this repeated process symbolizes the transience of time and it’s layering into different time spheres.
Kim explains that the most important routine of burning Hanji paper is to remain silent and to even one’s breath. Failing to do so creates uneven lines or dots. To handle a paper that flutters with a single exhale and to monitor the flame that could destroy the paper in an instant, means to balance the faint movements of almost invisible waves of air. Kim once said that mulberry Hanji paper has a tactile quality that resembles her own skin.
For the “Street” series, executed only with ink-coloured Hanji paper burnt at the edges and then collaged, Kim has picked up an older motif of imaginary landscapes or “street views”. The inspiration comes from looking down from a building on a rainy day, where a bobbing mass of umbrellas was moving up and down a street.
For the title-giving “Phasing” series Kim combines the burning technique with ink markings and more complex paper layering. The title alludes to the musical term when two instruments play the same part in steady but not identical tempi, which leads to deferments in the musical piece. In her “Phasing” series Kim introduces those shifts through different layers of paper in which the overlapping shapes appear staggered or offset.