Ku-lim Kim

Death of Sun I

1964

Artist
Ku-lim Kim born 1936
Medium
Oil paint and plastic on plywood
Dimensions
Unconfirmed: 1070 x
910 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased from the artist with funds provided by the Asia Pacific Acquisitions Committee 2016
Reference
T14359

Summary

Death of Sun 1 1964 is a predominantly black painting made of oil paint and burnt vinyl on a wooden panel by the artist Ku-lim Kim. To make the work, Kim drew an abstract circular form on the panel and added a sheet of black vinyl cut to fit the drawn shape. He put petrol on the vinyl sheet and set fire to it, before putting it out with a blanket once the texture and figure were close to what he had imagined. Kim then added more layers of oil paint to complete the work. The round image at the centre of the painting is reminiscent of the shape of the sun, but its surface is filled with charred cracks created by the burnt vinyl. The apocalyptic title reinforces this effect of destruction.

The painting was created in 1964, soon after Kim completed his military service in his native Korea. It is one of his earliest paintings, the result of his performative action in burning the vinyl on its surface. He explained, ‘I think the work is based on my experience of death. I spent some time in the military hospital during my service where I saw many young men losing their lives. With the lack of medicine and proper medical care, so many lives were being lost, and I felt that human existence was extremely insignificant.’ (Email correspondence with Tate curator Sook-Kyung Lee, 22 October 2013.) Integrating action with materials, the painting exemplifies the artist’s interest in contrasting notions of creation and destruction. It is also representative of the experimental nature of Kim’s early practice, challenging the conventions of painting while assimilating a growing trend for abstract painting and formal experimentation.

Kim made a series of black paintings using the same materials and method at this time, but many have been either lost during his frequent moves or destroyed by him. Another painting with a similar title, Death of Sun 2 1964, is in the collection of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea. It is slightly smaller in size than this work, and both were included in the artist’s retrospective exhibition at the Seoul Museum of Art in 2013.

Kim continued his artistic experimentation in various media in the 1970s, employing performance, film, mail art and land art. However, painting remains a key medium for the artist, often juxtaposing industrial materials such as plastic, metal and readymade objects with traditional materials such as oil paint. The element of action is also prevalent throughout Kim’s practice, incorporating seemingly opposing aspects of subject and object by amplifying the artist’s physical presence and movement during the making of a work.

Further reading
Ku-lim Kim, exhibition catalogue, Modern Museum of Art, Santa Ana 1991.
Kim, Ku-lim: Works 1958–2007, exhibition catalogue, Daegu Culture and Arts Center, Daegu 2007.
Kim Hong-hee (ed.), Kim Ku-lim: Like You Know It All, exhibition catalogue, Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul 2013.

Sook-Kyung Lee
April 2014

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Display caption

At the centre of this work is a shape reminiscent of the sun, but its surface is filled with charred cracks that the artist made by burning the plastic. It was created in 1964, immediately after Kim completed his military service in Korea: ‘The work is based on my experience of death. I spent some time in the military hospital…where I saw many young men losing their lives. With the lack of medicine and proper medical care, so many lives were being lost, and I felt that human existence was extremely insignificant.’

Gallery label, October 2016

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