The Story of New Homeland
by Don Kimes
Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of human communication. When the ancestors of our ancestors, in that prehistoric darkness, sat around a fire in the cave listening to the sounds of the night, they didn’t just quietly eat the recently killed bison and then go to sleep. Instead, they told stories. They told stories about what they had experienced that day during the hunt. They told stories about what they had experienced to that point in their lives. They told stories that had been handed down to them from the grandparents of their parent’s grandparents. They drew pictures on the walls of those caves and those pictures also told their stories. The pictures said “I was here. I saw this. I existed.”
SunheeKimJungalso tells stories. She came to the United States after spending the first 22 years of life in her native Korea. I always wanted to go back to the homeland, but I really enjoyed living in Maryland at the same time. I met Sunhee when she was my student in the graduate program at American University many years ago at a much earlier point in her journey. In fact, she has now been teaching for more than a decade, and has been a professional artist for much longer than that. She still speaks of her love for opportunity and the dynamic life style of all different ethnic groups of people in this country. But she says what she loves most of all about being here is the beautiful land, the crisp air. It’s a wonderfully essential statement that reflects her own integrity as an artist. Recently she spent several years traveling through the northern part of America. Sunhee says that this experience has allowed her to convey a personal and positive story through her own work as an artist. Her experience is unique, but it also speaks to a universal story. It is a story about Jack, and Jack is Sunhee, but in truth, he is all of us.
Today we live in an ostensibly modern world life with new technologies. We instantly converse across oceans like they were puddles. We sustain simultaneous contact with the realities of all of those who are in our sphere, no matter where they reside on the planet. We wake up in the morning, flip on the light with a switch, make a couple of cups of coffee or tea with instant heat that is fueled from some place we have never seen. Then we step into a mode of transportation that dwarfs the speed at which we can walk (or run) and most of our travel is about getting from point A to point B, rather than experiencing the trip. It’s a very different world than the one that our pre-historic ancestors experienced in that cave.
But geologically speaking, we are also only a few seconds away from those who lived from minute to minute in a world where fire was magic and survival was a constant struggle. Although it is tens of thousands of years later, we still tell stories. It is in the core of our genetic structure to tell stories. No matter what has happened technologically, the act of storytelling remains one of the most personal and human of all our activities.
New Homeland is one such contemporary story. The artist comments As I journeyed through the north, the changing texture of the landscape and the changing colors soothed my soul. This piece represents my memories and evoked emotions throughout the painting. You can see the changing character of Jack the mouse as he strolls through life.
After the completion of 27 feet long silk drawing, Jack became the star of my new series with oil on canvas.
The works included in this series have a very contemporary feel. The images and characters oscillate between real and cartoon, between brooding and comical, between presence and memory. A character named Jack the mouse is on a journey. His journey does not seem to have a fixed destination, unless one accepts the intellectually comprehensible, but experientially uncomfortable notion that it actually is the journey that is the destination. It is in that sense that these disarmingly humorous images of Jack, as he makes way in a world which appears to be both actual and virtual, joins a more universal theme related to our own connected but distinctive walks through life.
Jack the country gentleman looks out at us from a warm green farm in summer, while cowboy Jack looks at us on wedding day from a farm that is cold with snow and brown dirt in early spring. Jack takes a walk through a cornfield that he sees as a playground, and he strolls through a sunny field only to find the billowing clouds that appear as the shape of skeletal remains. Happy, sometimes making music or going to church, Jack is always looking out at us, bringing us into the story of his journey.
One could say that this is a metaphoric story about the specific experience of this artist. One could also say that Moby Dick is a story about a whale. But the story that SunHee is telling is one that is relived a thousand times every day by a thousand people. Jack the mouse, in his travels down the road, isn’t just going from point A to point B. This series of images telling stories functions as a metaphor not just for the experience of one person, but as a metaphor for our collective existence as life constantly shifts, changes and surprises us all. New Homeland is a story, told through a series of images that connect to us all. In the same way that we can look at the drawings on the walls of ancient caves and still be moved (even though the authors of those images lived in a world we cannot begin to imagine) their stories still talk to us. Art and image speak across language, across boundaries, across cultures and across time.
SunHeeKimJung says that Colors and forms of nature hold the power to heal the hurt. Perhaps that is why she tells this particular story, and perhaps it is also why we believe in seeing and relating to a story called New Homeland.
*Don Kimes is an artist who also occasionally writes. For more than 30 years he has divided his time between Washington DC, Italy and New York State. His work has been presented in more than 150 exhibitions in galleries and museums internationally, and he is represented by Denise Bibro Gallery in Chelsea, in New York City. He is currently Professor of Art and MFA program director at American
University in Washington, D.C. where,as department chair for 11 years,he was instrumental in conceiving and creatingthe Katzen Center for the Fine and Performing Arts. Currently he is also the Artistic Director of the ACI Artists and Writers residency program in at the Pieve International School in Corciano, Italy, and he is a Contributing Editor at the New Art Examiner. Collaborating with his wife, Lois
Jubeck, he was also the Co-Founder of VACI at the Chautauqua Institution and served there for 33 years as the Artistic Director in the Visual Arts. Previous to that was a faculty member at the New York Studio School in Greenwich Villagefor ten years, where he also served as Program Director.