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New York Times 09-20-1998 Review: A Show of Paintings Where East and West Meet in Harmony


ART; A Show of Paintings Where East and West Meet in Harmony

By VIVIEN RAYNOR
Published: September 20, 1998

ROBERT MARTIN'S Blue Hill Plaza here can still be counted on for a full schedule of shows, thanks to the efforts of its art consultant, Carolyn DeLisser. But business is booming in this corporate enclave, and while the exhibition space is as generous as ever there are signs of cost-cutting times -- plastic plants in the lobbies, for example.

The current exhibition, however, is of real paintings and silk-screen prints, and it comes from a Korean artist who made his Rockland debut 12 years ago by organizing and appearing in a group at the now defunct Thorpe Intermedia Gallery in 1986. Born in Inchon, Kyu Nam Han obtained his bachelor's degree at Seoul National University, his master's degree at Ohio State University, and, a citizen since 1972, he has exhibited in various parts of the United States, including Manhattan. He has also produced two public murals, one for American Express headquarters at the World Financial Center, the other for the Peace Plaza in Tenafly, N.J.

To judge from what is being written about him, Mr. Han is much exercised by the gap between Eastern and Western art traditions, as are many of his fellow emigres. But he stands out from the crowd as a Romantic who would reconcile the irreconcilable or, as he puts it, find in painting ''a common denominator where East and West meet, where there is no difference but only harmony and unity.''

Seemingly consumed by this ambition, the painter has worked both sides of the esthetic divide with equal facility. The show, which numbers almost 50 images spanning the last decade and a half, give or take a few years, begins with abstractions that imply Western influence to the degree that they consist of grids. In some cases, the compartments are occupied by small rounded shapes, in others they are solidly painted and merge in such a way as to suggest stretches of patterned drapery undulating in shallow space.

None of the abstractions are dated, and this, coupled with a sprawling installation -- small pieces in two lobbies and along a corridor leading to a cafeteria with a greenhouse, large canvases in a third lobby -- makes it hard to follow the painter's development. But if the variations in Mr. Han's nonobjective output that epitomize phases, he seems to have gone from the strictly geometric to the illusionistic.

Images of the 1990's include, among others, gridded panoramas; traditional, perspective-less landscapes, one zigzagging up a vertical canvas, another filling a very large horizontal format; aerial views of villages and impressionistic visions of buildings, some of them embossed with lines and dabs of white impasto. Depending on the subject, colors can be lush or muted, textures oily or dry and porous looking. This is labor-intensive work from an artist who seems reluctant to settle for one image when a half-dozen will do. In his interviews, Mr. Han comes across as an authority on the history of Modernism, and in his work as a virtuoso who would have it all without going to extremes, the grids filled with small rounded shapes are one example.

Traces of Abstract Expressionist influence are visible in the all-over images that have the look of scattered playing cards, but there is no sign of the Oriental calligraphy that influenced exponents of the style, like Franz Kline. Nor is there evidence of Mr. Han's ecumenical aspirations, which he himself has contradicted by saying that his mind ''is always in the East'' and by painting the traditional landscapes.



There is conflict, too, in the recent impressionistic renderings of architecture. Scenes set in the Far East and Europe tend to be tranquil and decorative with linear accents in the manner of Dufy. But this is not the case with Manhattan and, small wonder, for Mr. Han tackles the city as if expecting to be turned into a pillar of salt for his efforts -- working in grays diluted with white and touched with pastel hues. The results often seem metallic and not a little sinister. It is hard to tell if these late works represent a change of style or an emotional reaction to a place that some think has all the charm of Sodom and Gomorrah plus a little apocalyptic something of its own, and others regard as a wonder of the crumbling Post-Modernist world.

The show continues through Oct. 12. The information number is 359-1584.

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