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Su Kwak Logo

Su Kwak


Border Crossings
Artist Su Kwak

Public Art Magazine (Korea)
March 2023

Synthesis of Visions in Su Kwak's Abstract Painting

"Su Kwak who is a Korean-American artist has consistently dealt with the theme of light in its physical and spiritual senses. After immigrating to the United States in 1973 from Korea, Kwak studied art at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas and completed the MFA program at the University of Chicago in 1979. Since the mid-1980s, Kwak’s abstract style has developed from semi-abstract landscapes that include the land, water and light, reflecting the state of her mind, to experimentation in the late 1990s with sculptural works using acrylic paints on paper collage and plaster.

After 2002, Kwak redefined light to convey a more spiritual meaning in her abstract painting by emphasizing light’s healing power for weak and ailing bodies. In her Healing Light series (2003- 2006), the contrasts of primary colors and the cutouts on the canvas surface, revealing the supporting frames, became much bolder. Before the Cosmic Light series, her paintings on light and time from 2007 to 2012 continued to present quite dynamic, almost sculptural abstractions in which the spiritual light penetrates the open wounds of the canvas body.

By contrast, the Cosmic Light series (2013-2015) presents internalized light in Kwak’s paintings. The general style of this series appears quieter and the compositions are stabilized with subdued hues, repeated cycles of lights, and relatively flat surfaces. In fact, the most recent series of Light Within (2016-2017) and of Light Cycles (2018) seems to exhale light from inside the canvas. Therefore, Su Kwak’s Cosmic Light series can be considered an act of incubation for embracing the inner healing light and preparing for external delivery of the light to be born as life in subsequent years. 

Over the years, light in Kwak’s painting has changed from the reflected sunlight on water through spiritual healing light, and eventually to cosmic light moving in time and space. The motif looks as though it has been lifted from this earth to the transcendent realm, yet depiction of light in the Cosmic Light series has its own visual characteristics. Unlike the decisive lines of the light sources and light beams in Kwak’s earlier paintings, cosmic light is often represented through blurred, dispersed lines resembling collected particles. Away from the rigid frames of time and space, the cosmic light seems to exist ambiguously, evaporating between time and space.

Each painting has one or more circular sources or reflectors of light, formed by repeatedly swirling lines. Multiple brushstrokes with diverse colors and broken lines are visible in the straightforward rays of light in perpendicular crossings and penetrating lines among the circles. The rhythmic repetitions and sudden ruptures of the lines of light suggest the concept of time projected in the continuous cycle of life and in the critical moment of velocity, interruption or dilation in the personal or spatial universe. With its relatively introverted, meditative abstractions, the Cosmic Light series seems peaceful and tranquil when viewed from a distance. However, such an immanent yet dynamic power of the future captures a glowing journey to the goal of light.  

The Cosmic Light series illuminates Kwak’s mature stage of synthesis in her art she has pursued over the last forty years since her first exploration of its meanings and methods. The Abstract Expressionism that inspired her was intrinsically a synthetic art derived from Eastern ink painting tradition and Western art trends. The light in her art signifies a synthesis of natural sunlight and spiritual energy that she observes, meditates on, and expresses while embracing a syncretic symbolism of Confucianism, Daoism, and Shamanism in Korean Christianity. She also envisions a synthesis of past and present along with temporality and eternity.

In a suffering world with its deconstructive chaos and depressing uncertainty, Kwak’s paintings give us hope to see her continuing growth toward an ultimate synthesis that nullifies any conflicts, stereotypes, prejudices, or negativity while delivering harmony, magnanimity, affection, and vitality through the cosmic light beyond imagination."

-Jungsil Jenny Lee, Korean Critic and Art Historian

Catalogue Essays


Gregg Hertzlieb, Su Kwak: The Cosmic Light Series

Jungsil Jenny Lee,“Synthesis of Visions in Su Kwak’s Abstract Painting,”
Brauer Museum of Art Exhibition, Valparaiso University


Lilly Wei, Fiat Lux:  the Works of Su Kwak

Sandy Kita, Shared Heritage:  Su Kwak and the University of Chicago

Jungsil Jenny Lee, “Su Kwak: Light Journey - An Odyssey in Paint”
Brauer Museum of Art Exhibition, Valparaiso University


Sandy Kita, Making Faith Real:  Su Kwak’s Light and Time Series, June Kelly Gallery, New York

Rhai Kyoung Park, "Weaving Light and Time", Sun Gallery, Exhibition Catalog



Jae Ean Lee, “Su Kwak: Healing Light, Healing Painting,” Sun Art Center, Sun Gallery Exhibition

Elisabeth Sussman, "Su Kwak: Healing Light, June Kelly Gallery," New York City


Bok Young Kim, "Conversation with Light: A New Series of Paintings by Su Kwak," Jean Art Gallery


Eleanor Heartney, “Su Kwak: Beyond Light and Into Spirit,” Ellen Kim Murphy Gallery

Young Taek Park, “Su Kwak: Paintings Soaked with Light,” Ellen Kim Murphy Gallery


Ku Yeol Lee, “Light Series: Hope and Peace,” Sun Gallery

Ronny Cohen, "Su Kwak," Sun Gallery


Marge Goldwater, “Jurors' Statements,” 29th Three Rivers Arts Festival June


April Kingsley, “Introduction,” Annual Juried Exhibition '82, The Queens Museum


Su Kwak (Hae Suk Kwak). "Synthesis Of Opposites In Painting" 
Thesis for MFA Degree at the University of Chicago, 1979

Reviews and Publications


Su Kwak and Her Healing Light. An interview with Inna Logunova, November

Border Crossing,” In perspective, Art & Antiques magazine, June

Jungsil Jenny Lee, "Artist Su Kwak", Public Art Magazine, Seoul, Korea, March Issue

Podcast interview with "Su Kwak on making history as a Korean woman and artist." by Elizabeth Elfenbein in honor of Women's History Month (March 11, 2023) 


Young Hee Chong, “Kwak Su paints ‘Time of Peace’”, New York City, HK Art Gallery, The Korea Times, DC, September 3


Gregg Hertzlieb, “Cover Art Commentary: Gregg Hertzlieb on Su Kwak,” Valparaiso Poetry Review, December 16

JaeYeon Chung, “Su Kwak: Light Circle,” Public Art Magazine, Seoul, Korea, November Issue

J.S. Doh “Kwak Su Paints for 40 Years: Light of Life and Hope,” The Korea Times Washington DC, September 10

Christina Chong, “Su Kwak, Cosmic Light: Beyond Life Cycle, “ Brauer Museum of Art, The Korea Times Washington DC, August, 14


Heeun Choi, “Su Kwak: Cosmic Light Series at June Kelly Gallery New York,” The Korea Times, New York, March 16


“New York artist has retrospective show, ” The Register-Guard, Oregon Life, May 30

“Expressing Spirit with Color and Light,” Korea Daily Seattle, July 3

Christina Chong, “Su Kwak Published a book, ‘Healing Words’”, The Korea Times Washington, DC, July 10

J.S. Doh “Light Journey: An Odyssey in Paint, Su Kwak Retrospective,” The Korea Times Washington, DC, July 16

“Light Journey: Su Kwak’s Retrospective Exhibition,” Korea Daily Chicago, January 2

Kwak, Su, “Healing Words,” Pauline Press, Seoul, Korea


Stephen May, “20 Years, 20 Artists,” Art News, Summer 2011

S.L You, “Ralls Collection 20 Years Exhibition,” The Korea Daily, March 17


Tae Man Choi, “Su Kwak’s Exhibition,” Art in Culture, December, p.175

Sung Rok Suh, “Su Kwak’s New Paintings,” Monthly Art Magazine, December

Cathy Rose Garcia, “Light, Hope Fill Su Kwak’s Paintings,” The Korea Times:Arts & Living, October 27

Rhai Kyoung Park, “Weaving Light and Time,” Public Art, October

Mi-Seok Koh, “With Light Singing Comfort,” Dong-A Ilbo,, October 23

Min Young Kang, “Cut and Sutured Canvas Presents Healing and Hope,” The Sae Gae Times, October 19

Youngran Lee, “Korean American Artist, Su Kwak’s Exhibition,”The Herald Business, October 24

Young-Tae Kim, “Su Kwak: Abstract Painting Leading to the World of Light,” KBS Nightly News, November 4

Sang Woo Ryu, “Su Kwak: Artist Who Heals With Light,” Newsis, October 8

“Su Kwak’s Recent Work: Weaving Light and Time,” Public Art Magazine,

“Korean American Artist Su Kwak’s Exhibition at Sun Gallery,”Yonhap News: Culture News,
October 20

“Su Kwak – Light and Time,” Weekly Hankooki Magazine,
October 20

“Healing with Painting: Su Kwak’s Light and Time Exhibition,” 24 Hour News Channel,
October 31

Arirang, Korea’s Global TV, “Heart to Heart: 25minute documentary interview by JH Ahn,” November 2

Korea Broadcasting System (KBS), “Culture News: Su Kwak’s Exhibition by SD Hahn,” November 1

YTN TV, “Su Kwak’s Exhibition interview by JA Kim,” October 31


Mi-Seok Koh, “Suffering Blooms into Art,” Dong-A Ilbo, July 3

Kyung-Kab Kim, “Healing Light, Living Light,” Korean Economic News, July 3

Lee, Young Ran, “Color, Hope and Peace,” Herald Economic News, July 7

June Mo Jung, “Peace giving light,” Wolgan Misool Art Magazine, August

“Su Kwak: Healing Light,” essay by Jae Ean Lee, 
Sun Art Center, Sun Gallery, Seoul, Korea

Sukie Park, “Su Kwak,” The Korea Daily, July 1

Bok Young Kim, “Conversation with Light, Art In Culture, May

SBS Production, “Night Line: Art News,” July 5

Kim’s Arts Network International, “Interview with Su Kwak,” dibart (digital broadcasting of art), July


"Su Kwak Exhibition in "Goings on About Town"

The New Yorker, August 2, 2004


June Mo Jung, “Song of Light, Singing of Light,” Su Kwak Exhibition, Jean Art Gallery, Art in Culture, October

Kwang Jin Choi, “Su Kwak Exhibition,” Jean Art Gallery, Wolgan Misool, October

Jin Sup Yoon, “Joy and Suffering in Life, Light as Revelation,” Art in Culture

Hyung Doo Lym, “Kwak Su, Jean Art Gallery," Yonhapnews, August 30

Churl In Suh, “Kwak Su: My Life in Korea and America,” Jubu Sangwhal, June

SBS Production, “Su Kwak Exhibition, News and Daily Economics,” September 11

SBS Production, “Light in the Heart by Su Kwak, New Books,” April 16


Jin Sup Yoon, “Joy and Suffering in Life,” Light as Revelation,“ Art in Culture, March

Hye Sun Lee, “Interview with Su Kwak,” Wolgan Misool, February

Sung Koo Lee, “Materialization of Spiritual World,” Hankook Economics News, January 12

Sun Ae Park, “Gift of Peace through Painting,” Korea Times, January 13

Jung Kook Yoon, “Light: Symbol of Redemption,” Dong Ah Daily, January 10

MBC production, “Powerful colors in current Exhibitions,” Morning News, January 17

SBS production, “Culture News, “January 17

A&C TV, “Su Kwak,” Art and Culture News, January 16


Jung Sook Do, “Invitation to Light,” Feel Section, Chosun Daily, Washington, DC, January 18

V.O.L.M –TV, “Su Kwak: Artist of Light, interview by Sarah Lee,” May 21

KBN News Line, “Su Kwak’s Exhibition at the Korean Cultural Center, Washington, DC” May 14

Korean Broadcasting Network (KBN) “Su Kwak’s Exhibition,” KBN News Line January 30


Chung Gul Lee, “Invitation to Light,” Vogue Korea, April


Jin Sup Yoon, “Visualization of Inner World,” Wolgan Misool, Korea

Chan Sik Hong, “Interview with Su Kwak,” Dong-a Ilbo, Seoul, South Korea, April 5

Yong Lee, “Abstract Landscape Painted with Light,” Kyung Hyang Daily News, Seoul, Korea, April 5

Gung Hyun Chung, “Korean American Artist: Su Kwak Exhibition,” Chosun Daily News, Seoul, Korea, March 27

Jung Hee Shin, “Korean American Artist: Kwak Su Exhibition,” Daily Economics News, Seoul, Korea, April 1

Young Lan Lee “Expression of Inner World,” International Economic News, Seoul, Korea, April 4

Chang Hyun Pack, “Sublimination of Painting: Expression of Hope and Peace,“ Korean Economic News, Seoul, Korea, April 2

Korea Broadcasting Service (KBS), News Forum, “Su Kwan’s New Works at the Sun Gallery, April 3

A & C Kolon (A&C), News, “Su Kwak’s new works at the Sun Gallery, “April 4

Korea Broadcasting Service (KBS), “A Cultural Outing,” Presentation of Su Kwak’s new Works by Critic Ku Yeol Lee, April 10


“Korean Artists at Two N.Y. Galleries,” Manhattan Spirit, April 7

Ok Kee Kim, “Expression of Life Force,” The Sae Gae Times, March 8


Terrington Calas, “East Meets West in Compelling Landscapes,” The New Orleans Times-Picayune, March 27

Sarah Grusin, “Sight Scenes,” Washington Flyer, May-June