Kim Wan: no blank canvas
Interview by Erica Smith for Hastings Online Times
Kim Wan in front of a wall of canvases being primed for new work. Photograph by Erica Smith
Kim Wan: Paint Skin, an essay by Alastair Eales
To appropriate the words of Marshall McLuhan: “The medium is the message”. In the case of Kim Wan, rudimentary equates immediacy; this is an artist who paints first and asks questions later!
Kim Wan’s work is wonderfully rudimentary. It is rudimentary, in the sense that it is about the fundamental blocks that constitute a medium – oil paint – and it is about combining that with an idea of what is ‘inside himself’. Basic stuff. Paint and the surface which it is applied to, which in turn form the warp and weft of the ‘‘World according to Wan’. Wan’s World becomes the world within his skins, and his skins can cover everything.
Wan enjoys paint! Great volumic clods of smeary paint – gathered together and layered – twirled, slathered hastily, and yet always controlled and unadulterated. Paint is skin – it sits on the surface and (usually) alludes to form – but in Wan’s case his painterly skin holds a beating heart; it is his personal message to the world.
Kim Wan’s skill lies in the combination of the physical skin of paint, and its application, to form interesting and unexpected relationships. His paint describes form, and its sheer volume becomes form; it becomes an object of “an object”. Slathering, stratified clods that form landscapes of paint, that make skin surfaces. Wan’s topography of paint skin and its inferred meaning encapsulate everything in the pliable congregation of an ever-shifting, evolving and borderless environment. It contains something limitless; it’s the skin of something infinite. The ground onto which his environments adhere could just as easily be a canvas as a concrete floor or an old sideboard. He’s a painter who goes over the edge between art object and everything else. He is an artist with skin in the game.
This makes his environments vulnerable and violent, on edge and paradoxical; everything becomes an autobiographical façade; awkward and brilliant, difficult. Wan’s work rests on this difficult knife-edge between contained self-love and actual, recognisable, unbound genius.
There is a danger, of course, that, in his exuberance, his work could fall on the side of self-indulgence; that he is implicitly saying that his art, that he himself, really is everything. However, this indulgence allows a chance of a catalyst – there appears to be a symbiotic relationship between the ‘indulgence’ and ‘genius’; both are needed, both are valid and combined, both aspects yield results!
The art critic and writer, Sasha Craddock remarked of Wan’s painting back in 1998, and I paraphrase:
“Kim paints with such energy that one may think the result could only be a mess, but in this case [points to very large painting of thick, loose gestural marks in ultramarine and pink].There is a fine line between utter indulgence and brilliance – Kim paints like a maestro – at least in this painting, maybe his other work is awkward indulgences?”
Squirting £250 of oil paint onto a canvas, all in one go, is an indulgence: a self-gratifying outlay of artistic spending power.
So I am going to suggest that awkward solipsism and brilliant outlay exist at the same time. I’m going to propose that Wan’s best work is his most awkward and indulgent work; that it is a brilliant form of compromised genius.
It is Kim Wan’s exclusive focus on the painterly that drives the violence, the verve and vigour of his paintings and at the same time echoes his vulnerability and vacillation within a certain tunnel vision. He is an artist caught between flesh and sinew, between pigment and medium; an artist who revolves around a helix of what it is to be everything inside a human skin but who then compromises that with his chosen medium; he ends up articulating being human in paint and so everything becomes boundlessly alive within his paintings’ thick skin.
By revolving around an indulgence of self – coupled with an articulation of that self-satisfaction within the outlay of an expensive new artificial skin, and by trying to go beyond the limits imposed by this colourful artistic paint surface, he has also found a way of going beyond his own skin.
And all of this, by simply slapping paint about!
By Alastair Eales
(Editorial essay support: Phil King)