Would it be ever possible to draw paintings without self-consciousness?

Chung-hwan Kho

‟My paintings originate from graffiti of the wall.” As Kwon O-bong himself mentions this way, his paintings precisely look like graffiti. Since the graffiti is equipped with the class
(or shape) of painting, his works can be fairly called as ‟graffiti paintings.” Being graffiti paintings, his works lack self-consciousness observed as in Jean-Michel Basquiat or Keith Haring (Maybe Jackson Pollock) though. In the sense that his works are not exactly about the total absence of self-consciousness but about vague clarity of self-consciousness. they are even closer to Cy Twombly. Therefore, Kwon’s paintings are considered graffiti paintings without self-consciousness (or paintings finished free from it). Then a painting without self-consciousness is not drawn by self-consciousness? If it is not by self-consciousness, what other thing can make a painting draw? The lack of self-consciousness means the lack of ego. Let me ask again. If a painting is not drawn by ego, what (or who) on earth draws it? Then is the artist drawing on canvas at the workshop nothing but a ghost? Or is the artist’s ghost drawing the painting? What could the artist’s ghost, in particular, the ghost of an artist drawing a painting, possibly mean then? According to Aristotle, the invisible means a ghost (for Plato, it was a soul).

In some religious paintings of the Middle Ages, there were times when angels drew paintings instead of artists. Angels guide the artist’s hands drawing the painting. Going back to further in time, even inspiration and intuition also drew pictures. A personal god draws a picture by borrowing the artist’s body (Here, inspiration and intuition incarnated in a personal god are a sort of allegory and was commonly observed in the paintings of old times). Then do angels draw pictures instead of the artist indeed? Does a personal god draw pictures instead of the artist? Then what is the role of an artist? Here, an artist thoroughly remains in a passive state. The artist does not draw a painting but is laid in a state of which a painting is being drawn. Spontaneity (or immediateness), contingency, extemporaneousness and even inertia in some suspicious cases (body habit? body memory remembering the pictorial habits?) come to draw paintings. Among all these factors, Kwon O-bong mentions that extemporaneousness mainly plays as a driving force for his paintings. Other factors might have similar power though.
Going back to what we initially talked about, the works of Kwon O-bong are considered graffiti paintings drawn without self-consciousness (or paintings finished free from it). Adults sometimes write graffiti but it is normally about a child’s task (play). A child is a lot closer to graffiti without self-consciousness. It is close to simple scribbling and becomes similar to drawing of which main objective is the act of drawing itself. For this reason, it approaches closer to abstraction which apparently seem accidental, indiscriminate, indifferent and insignificant. It is because it lacks information of representation worthy of reference. At the same time, we can think of the case of the act of incessant scribbling on the paper even without the consciousness of drawing. In fact, this act is done in the semi-conscious state, so the artist does not even notice what he or she is drawing or writing in most cases. It is almost estimated that Inertia is what leads the artist to draw or write.
This act of drawing void of self-consciousness can also be confirmed in Buncheong celadon, or grayish-blue-powdered celadon. They draw a painting after putting white clay onto celadon-base clay at random, even before the white clay gets dry, and they draw a line with a thin stick to reveal some part of celadon-base clay to the surface. This kind of drawing is about drawing without clear self-consciousness with a look of indifference and insignificance, compared to serious formal drawings. This Buncheong celadon is highly recognized before any work done by serious formal drawing. Personally, I believe that this has the highest pictorial value among all traditional genres including paintings and life arts.
From today’s perspective, such drawings belong to infallible drawings. Definitely, they are simply outstanding works. This kind of mastery state of such drawings is described as ‟artless technique,” ‟technique beyond artificial technique” and, in particular, ‟non-action.” This can be interpreted that the lines of drawing which look clumsy or vague at a glance finally match the essence of nature and the lines themselves are able to attain nature. As the expression goes ‟Actionless activity,” the non-action as an activity finally goes in tune with nature as a phenomenon (and the stage of nature). For this reason, if a drawing attains nature, it is considered the optimum evaluation of the drawing. Actionless activity or artless technique achieve the optimum value of painting… Isn’t it contradictory?
Without artificiality and technique, there will be no drawings. Therefore, a drawing or an act of drawings is a ceaseless act of facing contradiction and breaking through contradiction by means of antinomy. Contradiction is what allows reason to stand and law of nature to flow.
Interestingly, paintings of Kwon O-bong demonstrate the stage and dimension of the process and physiology of this Buncheong celadon. Kwon also uses colors but his works has the boundary limited to the achromatic color between black and white. In the majority of cases, he colors the background canvas in black and covers it in white. Then he does painting on top of it and draws. Most of the time, he does painting with a mop and draws with an iron rake or wood stick. He uses a mop for painting to avoid the inertia of brushes. Such iron rakes or wood sticks used for drawing can be immediately replaced with any other tool available around him.
This way, the drawing is done in an instant and unwittingly. Again, Kwon O-bong regards extemporaneousness as a driving force for his art. This means that he draws paintings not with thought but with feelings. Ultimately, he simply draws even giving up such feelings. However, it is possible to give up thought but it is not possible to fully give up all feelings. When it comes to feelings, there is a feeling known by thought (sense of thought? sense of consciousness?) while there is a feeling not even noticed by thought (sense of body?). There is this kind of feeling not known by thought but by body. The sense of body is about recognizing the fact that apparently clumsy lines of drawing coincide with the essence of nature, and the proof can be found from the fact that sensible pleasure (or any decisive factor heightening the degree of pictorial completion) under any circumstance can be brought. Kwon is already aware (learned? embodied?) of the point of which the sensible pleasure reaches the climax (through which the painting is completed). Thus, he already reached the stage of letting himself under the passive state. In other words, he succeeded in arriving at the dimension of which his body spontaneously reacts prior to his thought.
If it is only about conceptual art, what is needed is just grasping thought and giving up the thought (then maybe the conceptual art will not be established though). However, drawing is about drawing with body. Therefore, it is possible to grasp thought but it is not possible to fully grasp the body (for the same reason, the feeling). This can be considered a sort of achievement of the artist and, at the same time, an inescapable dilemma as long as the artist is drawing, or even a pleasing dilemma, a spontaneous dilemma and a drug-like dilemma (In effect, some artists use drugs on purpose to reach a certain desired stage of drawing).
Let’s get back to celadon-base clay of Buncheong. What corresponds to celadon-base clay in the artist’s paintings is the canvas painted in black. White is dominant on the surface, however, in fact, it is a drawing of which black canvas spouts and the surface was pushed up by black. Therefore, this black canvas is considered the prototype and matrix of paintings of the artist. Worthy of the prototype and matrix, they are hidden beneath the white canvas. The same way celadon-base clay is hidden beneath white clay, the artist paints the canvas in black before starting the drawing. Yes, everything starts from the canvas painted in black. It is the base. Malevich’ suprematism art manifesto based on pictorial objet in which black painting was drawn on top of black canvas and a drawing is combined with the frame might have been a declaration of the end of paintings on tableau. It could be a declaration of the end of modernist paintings. The black canvas of the artist precisely starts from this point. It starts from achievement, end and expiration of modernist paintings. It starts from the dual relationship between modernist paintings and the works of the artist. On one hand, it starts by taking advantage of achievement of modernist paintings (succession). On the other hand, it starts by overturning (subversion or sublation in Hegel’s voice). While Malevich’s black canvas is about closing, the black canvas of Kwon O-bong is about opening. What does this black canvas of the artist intend to open then? What does this black canvas ever want to mean?
The concept of intentional arc of consciousness of Merleau-Ponty can be helpful here. It is like a register office where something perceived is registered before crossing to consciousness. It is like a raw material of consciousness able to determine or modify consciousness or a warehouse storing pre-consciousness prior to the state of transformation into consciousness. Likewise, we can extend its meaning to intentional arc of language storing the raw material of pre-language state able to determine or modify a language (and a meaning) before it transforms into a language (and a meaning) as well as intentional arc of the meaning. The black canvas of the artist corresponds to the storehouse of such consciousness, language and meaning. It is a storehouse where a consciousness to become a consciousness, a language to become a language and a meaning to become a meaning are all sealed in silence. Moreover, it is an ontological womb where the castrated language (therefore, desire), not enunciated words (Jacque Lacan), formless excesses (Georges Bataille), accidental and indiscriminate libidos (Freud), symbols without representation (Gilles Deleuze) and wounds float like a ghost (maybe a bit more existential than this).
Since they failed to achieve any meaning or the meaning was castrated, they are always self-generating, one-time and episodic. If there is any way to pull them, which are quite ok to be considered subconsciousness or sediment of consciousness, up to the surface (canvas), it is by way of eruption and extemporaneousness. Like this, the black canvas and white paintings of the artist keep painting ghosts recognized by body and the traces of such ghosts (according to Aristotle, a ghost is something invisible or the substance of something invisible). The artist’s paintings have a variety of aspects: intense, lyrical, poetic, dramatic, spectacular, and indifferent. This is because the artist drew such incomprehensible ghosts. Who could ever draw the invisible substance in a visible form, and even in a decisive case? That’s what Kwon O-bong does. On top of that, he draws doubts, skepticism and insignificance of paintings, obsession, voluntary addiction, dances of paintings and lines which expresses without restraint, hesitate and mumble at the same time.
Kwon O-bong confesses that once he drew some paintings under the incredibly dizzy state when he got stung by a bee. I wonder how it was possible to draw a painting even after getting stung by a bee, but what matters now is not about truth or falsehood of the story. What matters here is the attitude and position of th artist towards paintings and the act of paintings. He talked about some paintings, but it will be all right to apply to all his paintings rather than only some paintings he mentioned. The artist draws paintings under the state of absent-mindedness, vagueness, erased ego, extemporariness, lack of self-consciousness. He draws out of wish of deleting inertia of painting, but he is not able to erase the inertia which is already known by his body. The fact that his body already knows means that a drawing can be completed even when his ego is thrown to the passive state, and he is able to draw a painting which is being drawn spontaneously instead of drawing himself with consciousness. This can be interpreted as an achievement of the artist, but, at the same time, an eternally inescapable dilemma. A price forced to pay in the process of drawing paintings without self-consciousness (or paintings finished free from it)… this can be interpreted as such (By the way, would it be ever possible to draw paintings without self-consciousness?).