"Lost in a Finite Space," John Pai / Courtesy of Gallery Hyundai
By Kwon Mee-yoo
In the most traditional sense, sculptures are immovable as are those of John Pai. So it's a testament to his talent that his works so vibrantly exude energy and the drama of music.
The Korean-American sculptor is featuring 20 of his works at Gallery Hyundai in central Seoul in an exhibition titled "In Memory's Lair.''
His works, distinguished by a heavy use of wires and other metallic materials, are an exercise in calculated dynamism. There is a rhythmical sense to how the lines and shapes are constructed, but constructed they are with architectural balance and geometric perfection.
Pai's sculptures begin with a small unit of rectangles and semicircles, which add up to create an entirely new form. Skillfully designed lightings create layers of shadows from the works, giving them visual depth.
Unlike many contemporary sculptors who draw a sketch and let metalworkers do the actual construction, the 75-year-old sculptor continues to do all his work himself ― from choosing the materials to welding and bending them. Many of the works are not pre-designed, with Pai altering shapes as he processes the materials.
"It's very important for me to be in full control of my work in all aspects. In art, the work process is worth more than the end product,'' Pai said.
He compared his work process to that of a veteran jazz band jamming and improvising on the way.
"The shape is a result of coincidence after coincidence and I don't know how a piece will end up until it's finished,'' he said.
Interestingly, his favorite choice of work music is Bach.
"I always return to Bach as he created new music by giving variation to the most basic musical sequences," Pai said.
The sculptor has been working with metals for about 10 hours a day for decades and suffers neuralgia in his right hand. But Pai doesn't want to give up working.
"Steel wires are affordable and durable, but can disappear after becoming rusty. I like such a nature of wire, because it is similar to that of a living thing," he said.
Pai was born in Seoul in 1937 and immigrated to the United States in 1949. His father was an independence activist against the Japanese colonial government and his mother was educated in Russia.
He studied design and sculpture at the Pratt Institute in New York and was appointed the youngest professor of his alma mater at the age of 27.
The exhibit runs through April 25. Pai will give an artist's talk at 3 p.m. on Wednesday. For more information, visit www.galleryhyundai.com or call (02) 2287-3500.