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Artists Explore Meaning Of Life In Digital, Metal Lines

Published Dec 9 2011 by Elissa Barnard, Chronicle Herald

Kye-Yeon Son: Vessel/Jewelry is one of the most deeply moving shows of metal art that I’ve ever seen.

This show could be called The Passion of Metal. It’s as emotionally powerful as the tortured, highly crafted, over-the-top drama of an Alexander McQueen fashion show and, yet, it’s so quiet.

Its power lies in whispers and sighs of metal wire as Son examines memory, loss, nature and the nature of being human.

Key-Seon Son, an associate professor in the jewelry department at NSCAD University, won the Saidye Bronfman Award for Excellence in Craft, one of eight Governor General Awards in Visual and Media Arts, earlier this year while she was on sabbatical in Korea.

The Korean-Canadian artist is having a retrospective show at the Mary E. Black Gallery to Dec. 18 that introduces her themes and amply demonstrates why she won that award.

The silversmith expresses nature and emotion in pieces ranging from wintry, enamel brooches of bare tree branches to magical wishing stones, combining the Korean ritualistic approach to stone and Canadian’s nostalgia for beach stones to vessels that represent women trapped in their domestic lives.

The show is organized by Son’s statements on form and laid out in a wonderfully comprehensive manner, with the artist’s clear explanations.

Son finds the bare branches of winter appealing and the abstracted branch form appears in her tree-branch brooches and in metal wire vessels.

“I am drawn to the beauty of the empty feeling of leafless branches during the long Canadian winter,” she says. “Rather than bareness or a sense of loss, I see quiet motions growing in harmony with their environment.”

Fine metal wire, used in her Innate Gestures series of pins and sculptural vessels, allows her to explore delicate structures while creating volume, strength, colour and light.

“I hope to impart such qualities as resilience, endurance and fragility.”

She likes to work in metal wire because she can contrast the “tensile strength” of metal with vulnerable, delicate, fragile and porous vessels.

And she loves to work with line. In many ways these works are like three-dimensional drawings.

To express loss, she came up with the form of the ring representing the cycle of life and constructs vessels out of a multitude of these tiny metal rings attached together. They appear empty but they hold memory so, in her view, they are functional.

She repeats this pattern in large, hollow pendants in the Muse and Meaning necklaces, which are like portraits of the artist. One includes an enamel bone of a branch.

While Son appears to be more interested in form than materials, her latest brooches are different from the rest of the exhibit as colourful, geometric, architectural images in materials ranging from blazing lapis lazuli to pale, dyed, hemp fabric.

Born in South Korea, Son received her bachelor of fine arts from the College of Fine Arts at Seoul National University and her master of fine arts from Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.

When her husband got a job in Montreal, she moved there with him in 1984 and met her mentor, Lois Etherington Betteridge. She joined the NSCAD faculty in 1995.

Son’s work has been shown in solo and group exhibitions in Canada, Korea, Germany, Japan, England and the U.S.

There are wonderful crossovers in her work over they years. You just have to see it to believe it.

Nearby at Studio 21, Alex Livingston’s latest digital chromica prints are joyful, playful, eye-popping art works.

Livingston, who is a full professor of fine arts at NSCAD University, puts swooping cables of colour on a one-colour background. The print, Resolve 2/ 3, has curving lines of red, charcoal, pink, white and yellow on a blazing royal blue background.

The colour and the movement are electric. The eye races around then slows down to follow the lines as if finding a way through a maze. The surface has a sheen like a magazine photograph.

There is a texture in Livingston’s wires or cables, sometimes like a painted line, so one thinks of the difference between hand-made and computer-generated marks.

The lines are connected to the worlds of electronic and digital technology and organic life. One thinks back to Livingston’s DNA lines in his earlier paintings.

“I think there is an organic quality to the tubular lines in these new works and that they have similarities to the vines, stems and chromosomal forms that often appeared in my earlier canvasses,” says Livingston, whose aim is to create a “vibrant and uplifting” viewing experience.

While he’s no longer painting, he says the digital paint programs he uses on an electric drawing tablet are “quite clever in their mimicry of the physical properties of paint, paint mixing and application.

“There are enough similarities between real painting and digital painting that I don’t feel like I’ve completely left canvas painting.”

This series of work has been exhibited in Toronto twice in the past year at the Katzman Kamen Gallery. One piece was selected by the Canadian Art Foundation for its high profile annual fundraising auction in support of various cultural and creative activities.

That he is interested in origins and creation, whether it’s the beginning of civilization, the beginning of human life or the new world of technology, is indicated in his titles of Beta and Alpha.

Livingston lets the viewer be a kid in a candy shop with an intellectual edge. The show of five large prints is on through Dec. 14.

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