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The Planarity Journey in Artist Lim Sunhee’s Colorful Paintings

Lim Sunhee, 'Lined Blue Ring Angelfish II,' 2019, Oil on canvas, 112 x 162 cm.

Lim Sunhee’s (b. 1975) colorful artworks may look like regular paintings that depict objects, scenery, or some sort of image. Lined Blue Ring Angelfish II (2019) resembles an aquarium filled with brilliantly colored fish, while Magritte_The Discovery of Fire (2022) seems to depict a dream in which a floating brass instrument is on fire somewhere on land where the sun sets. 

However, the reproduction of images is not Lim’s primary focus. Rather, the formative elements used to express the images, such as brushstrokes, colors, shapes, and compositions, are the essence of her works. In her paintings, she focuses on how these formative elements are balanced, bring about change, and have a sense of unity.

Lim Sunhee, 'Magritte_The Discovery of Fire,' 2022, Oil on canvas, 91 x 61.5 cm.

Lim’s main concern is expressing the essence of paintings, and she strives to capture this in her works rather than focusing on the images and contents. Lim particularly brings the method of expressing different images with planarity to reinterpret the medium of painting because Lim takes the modernist approach to her paintings and reinterprets them from a new angle. 

The planar characteristic or the flat surface is important in modernist painting. Traditional paintings considered it necessary to express the illusion of three-dimensional space on the canvas. On the other hand, modernist painting has chosen to exclude the representational and include flatness to pursue something unique and exclusive to pictorial art and achieve independence as an art form.

Lim’s works that reevaluate this modernist approach, thus, become “paintings about paintings,” expressing the flat surface by appropriating various Western painting techniques. 

Lim Sunhee, 'Lined Pink Cake and Blue Guitar,' 2019, Oil on canvas, 112 x 162 cm.

In short, Lim depicts and reproduces various objects in her works to highlight pictorial elements but removes perspective and focuses on color, form, and brushstrokes. 

Lim creates flat surfaces but does not exclude spacious elements in her works. Instead of depicting depth, the images in the paintings create a space in which planes and flat layers overlap. The images do not have outlines or shadows, only varying levels of color to create the layers. But rather than constraining each other, the multiple layers create organic relationships between the shapes and colors. 

By expressing flatness and utilizing formative elements and various painting techniques, Lim Sunhee unravels the possibilities of contemporary painting by breaking away from traditional painting and reinterpreting the concept of modernist painting.

Artist Lim Sunhee. Courtesy of the artist.

Lim Sunhee received her Ph.D. in painting from Ewha Womans University. She has held numerous solo exhibitions at galleries and institutions, such as UArtSpace (Seoul) in 2019, Incheon Art Platform (Incheon) in 2015, and Gallery Chosun (Seoul) in 2013. Her works are in the collections of many Korean institutions, including the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art’s Art Bank, the Incheon Cultural Foundation’s Art Bank, the Seoul Museum of Art, and the Korean Film Archive.

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