“I obey time, but do not try to manipulate it” South Korean artist Myonghi Kang told Oscar Holland for CNN, referring to her painting “Le temps des camélias” (“The Time of Camellias”), which took her 30 years to complete. She began the painting in 1980 working on it slowly, intermittently, and then letting it lie fallow for long periods, as long as a decade.

I would go back to the painting with all these questions in my mind…

…I cannot really explain, I just felt this painting had to be made like that. I trusted the moment — to know the right moment for me to paint the different parts until I was finished. I would not dare say that I paint time — that would be very arrogant — but time is in what I paint.

Le temps des camellia by Myonghi Kang, coutesy Villepin Gallery, Hong Kong

She describes her process as “very very intense”:

I just look at paintings and feel they are not finished. And it can even be hard to sleep. They are always moving and progressing, and sometimes I never get the feeling they are done. Sometimes, I wish I could have a drink and forget about it, but it’s not possible. I always need to try to solve the little things I see every day in front of me.”

She works until she has a clear sense that the painting is complete. “It’s not something that I plan or know rationally. It’s spontaneous.”

We are struck by Kang’s assuredness and courage, even, in a world where the pressure to be productive seems to inform every moment. These days, it is rare for a person to truly follow their own sense of time, especially if it is “slower” and less obviously fruitful than the norm. Her process is the opposite of the formulaic productivity hacks we wrote about here. Hers is unique and completely original, governed by her very personal sense of time.

Myonghi Kang, Orangers Fleuris (2020). Courtesy of Villepin Gallery, Hong Kong

We love the radical notions implicit in Kang’s work: that 30 years to complete a painting is fine because that is what it took; that the painting contains those 30 years — as though a coded message — and in that way embodies time. Whether one thinks the painting good or bad seems not to be the point. Rather, it was a vehicle for something meaningful to Kang: exploration, witness and companion to her life, evidence, something that had to be brought into being in its own time…

It calls to mind a favorite image of Patti Smith in the 70’s: a moment in time about time. We hunted it down to discover it is the work of photographer Allan Tannenbaum. (It is for sale via Artsy.)

Patti Smith, Fuck the Clock by Allan Tannenbaum courtesy of Madelyn Jordon Fine Art

With heartfelt thanks to Ruth Kissane for alerting us to Myonghi Kang.

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One thought on “An Artist Who Spent 30 Years on a Single Painting: “I Obey Time” (Myonghi Kang + Patti Smith)

  1. This is exactly what I needed to read first thing this morning. Thank you, as always, for such a beautiful message.

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