A new spin on the art of ink calligraphy

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Added on January 4, 2015 by sungsook setton.

 Andrew Weinstein, Associate Professor, FIT, “Reading Women Into the Story,” the Lineage of Vision Exhibition Catalogue, October 2014

“Having trained in the 1970s and 80’s in traditional ink painting, Sungsook Hong Setton continues to work in a representational mode, but just as often she uses her medium for abstraction. Even as abstraction has become less prominent in contemporary art generally, it persists in the Korean contexts, maybe in part because its carefully controlled method and expressive forms lend themselves to communicating Eastern philosophy. Control, expression, and philosophical wisdom are, in fact what Setton admires about Jackson Pollock: “we both have a concept of and emphasize spontaneity, intuition, and inner energy,” she writes, “but … Pollock fills the painting…. [while] I use empty space in addition to line and color as representational of my energy.” Hers are personal strategies she relates to traditional East Asian cosmology.”


Rick Coster, art and music columnist, “Artists in their Own write,” The Day, April 15, 2014

“Sungsook Setton’s Opus 7” seems similar to what Jackson Pollock might do if he’d studied with a master of calligraphy, blending bright colors into what are more typically black, white and gray works.”

Tess McRae, qboro editor, November 27, 2013|

New York was one of the first cities where modern, abstract calligraphy took root and the Art of Ink in America Society is finally bringing it back home.

Through an exhibit entitled “Gesture and Beyond,” the society is featuring new works by its members, the latest in abstract calligraphy, at the Godwin-Ternbach Museum of Queens College.

“It goes without saying that today gestural calligraphy is considered an important art form,” said Amy Winter, director of the Godwin-Ternbach Museum. “In the modern era, calligraphy has become a highly valued aesthetic practice standing on its own merits apart from any verbal or symbolic meaning, and it is embraced globally, as evident in the diversity of the participating artists.”

As opposed to traditional calligraphy — used by Western and Asian cultures as a means of communication but also considered an art form in and of itself — abstract calligraphy takes the old techniques and applies them in a more innovative and avant-garde way.

In certain pieces the calligraphic influence is obvious, while in others, the canvas may appear to be only a painter’s scrap used to wipe excess paint off brushes.

Looking harder, the complexity of each piece reveals itself. Though some are quite chaotic, there is an apparent intention behind each line, stroke and squiggle made on the canvas.

Historically, this style of calligraphy was largely inspired by a major revival of abstract expressionism in the 1990s. Up to that point, little was appreciated of its development, with the focus remaining on the more familiar, traditional Asian calligraphy.

Since that time, the abstract has flowered all over the world piquing the interest of art lovers.

Because of this, the Godwin-Ternbach Museum says it is particularly meaningful that “Gesture and Beyond” returns to New York, where contemporary calligraphy first received recognition.

Opus 7 by Sungsook Setton, a highlight of the exhibit, is a colorful representation of abstract calligraphy.

Through the slices of paint, flashes of what resemble traditional calligraphy can be seen in deep black Sumi ink.

The exhibition will also incorporate a special section in honor of the Society’s founder, the late Dr. Sun Wuk “Hanong” Kim, by showing five works never previously displayed.

‘Gesture and Beyond’

When: Through Dec. 30, Monday to Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Where: Queens College, 65-30 Kissena Blvd., Flushing

The encounter of music and art

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Hangseop Shin, Art Critic

The act of transforming the abstract language of music into a more visible medium is fraught with challenges, in part because such transformation involves more than the transmission of a momentary impression. Only when the various elements of the composition are sensitively combined can the work be said to have artistic value.

Sungsook Hong Setton has spent a considerable amount of time depicting music with visual imagery. In 2005, at the invitation of the chamber group Ardesco, Sungsook participated in a multimedia performance, entitled Brush Voice. That event was the point of departure on a journey from traditional literati painting to a world of organic abstraction.

Sungsook’s artistic career was founded on the traditions of water-ink, calligraphy and literati painting which use rice paper, water, ink, and brush. In terms of materials, East Asian water-ink is similar to Western watercolor, but in terms of representation and mode of expression they are very different. The lines created by East Asian brushes, originally tailored for Chinese calligraphy, are very sharp and yet elegant. Such brushes are effective tools for the expression of free and spontaneous strokes on the soft surfaces of Korean rice paper.

Sungsook’s work springs from an East Asian ethos; she naturally follows a mode of expression imbued with the Daoist philosophy of wuwei, going along with the flow of one’s surroundings, free of contrivance. Sungsook’s work is at times highly simplified or abbreviated, revealing a mastery of the compositional language of East Asian art. In this way she shows an innate ability to capture the natural essence of things in her creation of original work. The brush may appear to have moved effortlessly over the paper, but in reality is the result of highly calibrated movement reflecting significant emotional control.

Naturally Sungsook’s work is not limited to the creation of lines. Splashes, blots, and gentle washes accompany these lines to enhance the techniques of abstract expression. Along with lines, broad strokes, as well as a wide array of colors are used as resources to capture the emotive and elusive nature of music. It can be argued that the brushes used by East Asian artists are some of the most effective tools to bridge the two worlds of music and art. Like silk thread, the different kinds of animal hairs constituting East Asian brushes can closely reflect the subtle emotional fluctuations of music through their delicate lines. In the same way that instrumental melodies convey worlds of experience that transcend the physical senses, the East Asian brush excels at stimulating visual imagination.

The unique characteristics of the East Asian Brush, well suited to sensitive expression, are clearly manifested in Sungsook’s brush strokes, which range from extremely controlled lines to complex lines able to evoke a sense of chaos. One can discover a wide variety of strongly emotive and sensual gestures which embrace the polarities of order and confusion, tension and release, tranquility and commotion, spontaneity and deliberateness, as well as acuity and softness.