Dharma Tree (2010)

They say to sleep is none other than to experience a mini-death. Each day we fall asleep and die, each day we wake up and revive. It is said the Korean word "Saram" (meaning man) is another way of pronoucing "Sarm" (meaning life); Man tries to live on, but cannot escape death. There comes the time when man fails to wake up. A dream is a mini-life within the mini-death in sleep we experience daily. To dream is to attempt to live; We are often startled by a dream and awake. We thus revive. And we are amazed by the vividness of dreams. Bad dreams and nightmares carry such vividness. I've long portrayed bad dreams. I've endeavored to depict the vividness of the moment when familiar things appear unfamiliar. It's Bodhidharma that I encountered while gazing into the darkness for a long time. Bodhidharma appeared to me like a boundary ...

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They say to sleep is none other than to experience a mini-death. Each day we fall asleep and die, each day we wake up and revive. It is said the Korean word "Saram" (meaning man) is another way of pronoucing "Sarm" (meaning life); Man tries to live on, but cannot escape death. There comes the time when man fails to wake up. A dream is a mini-life within the mini-death in sleep we experience daily. To dream is to attempt to live; We are often startled by a dream and awake. We thus revive. And we are amazed by the vividness of dreams. Bad dreams and nightmares carry such vividness. I've long portrayed bad dreams. I've endeavored to depict the vividness of the moment when familiar things appear unfamiliar. It's Bodhidharma that I encountered while gazing into the darkness for a long time. Bodhidharma appeared to me like a boundary between dark and light, beautiful and ugly, life and death. In order to portray this peculiar saint, I've attempted to paint a portrait of a bad man made up of all the beautiful things of this world. This attempt led me to certain lights and colors for the first time in a long period of time and I began to draw trees. I was drawn more and more to trees. This Pennsylvania to which I moved last winter is abundant in trees of all kinds, as the place name "Penn's Trees" may suggest. One can easily look down from an average two-story house standing along a gradually sloping hill, at tall trees forming forests. One can have a grand view of the trees standing in an endless line along the Delaware River. As one drives along the riverside, sunlight glitters dazzlingly over the shadows of trees covering the road. The way the trees along the road dance to the glittering beat twirling their arms and bodies reminds me of the ecstatic rituals performed by thousands of shamans together. There are many trees in the house where I live. While I cross the yard from the rooms where I stay and walk to the main building, I frequently stop to look up at the trees. The more I look at the trees, the more I get excited. I'm even mystified by their life force which has survived ages, not to mention the beauty of their variegated lines and curves. Besides, as I look at the trees which stand in grandeur revealing their whole careers, I come to think of the passage of time.

At one time or another the trees must have soared towards the sky and the sun, spreading wide their boughs and branches like an awning. They stood thick and green, or they struggled with the tornado that suddenly assailed them, overpowering them to thrust their arms into the storm, only to break them apart. Then new branches appeared among powerless and broken boughs and branches. Vines climbed up the new branches. At long last new leaves came out, and birds built their nests among the branches. Trees document graphically all the vicissitudes of life. Among the trees I've met, there are trees I can never forget. There are trees that spread their branches like bird wings; trees that look like the adroit brush-strokes of a master of oriental painting; trees that extend numberless branches toward the sky like incarnations of the will to life; trees that flutter glittering green leaves, standing like faeries in the snow-covered field, trees collapsing into the river; numberless broken tree trunks fallen over mountain slopes and withering in the sun; trees that resemble thighbones; thousands of slender branches of willow trees lying in one direction indicated by the wind on the morning following a stormy night. Stories told by these trees are each a story that one cannot finish telling overnight. For they are not stories that proceed in one direction or along one line as in a textbook, but they are stories etched over the whole bodies of the trees and spread out along the boughs and branches in all directions. Like this, trees are narratives that exist in three dimensions, alive and breathing. Incidentally, they form a model for a multi-dimensional narrative sculpture, which I hope to achieve some day.

I endeavor not to be efficient while painting trees. I paint slowly like trees. Thinking and acting efficiently turns the act of painting into pain and labor from which one would only wish to escape. One must not be efficient at least while painting trees. For trees do not grow efficiently. Painting a tree is like walking over a field covered with the first snow, facing the sun. Since there's no road, there's no map or plan. One makes a path as one treads over the snow facing the sun. One puts a dot or draws a line as one treads the snowfield slowly, step by step. One acts out a tree rather than drawing a tree. One cannot draw erroneously or wrongfully because one does not copy the tree. To draw a tree is to imagine a tree. My way of drawing a tree is to remember the tree I met once and to imagine the times and seasons it had spent. Above all, I imagine the way it grows. I imagine and follow the way a branch extends in keeping with a rule, whether cross-wise or otherwise. As a small branch extends and bends, it courts the wind more and more. The wind forms a new rule, and the tree sways in the wind, bends or breaks. Clouds rush into the tree. The sun rises and the moon fades behind the hanging clouds. Stars pour down. At last a tree appears on the paper. It turns out to be a Dharma tree.

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