“Is it really him?, is it Kim Jong-un?” they asked. Called “Head” there was no certainty provided by the title. “Where is it from?”. Catapulted to the forefront of recent news events over missile capability, nuclear arms and the potential threat to the US – Kim Jong-un was up there at the top of their minds. But was it him? Although completely recognisable could this remarkable little drawing be the portrait of someone else? I needed to find out.
Created by Lisa Wilkens and drawn with Chinese ink on old stock East German paper The Collective purchased this and two other works in 2013 from Sluice Art Fair. This portrayal of the man, drawn with such precision and to such a small-scale on a very large piece of paper is intriguing. What is its significance?
Apart from living with the art works day-to-day, The Collective has always sought opportunities to visit artists studios and connect with the artists themselves. More than that – we try to incorporate it as part of how we make purchases. Every work has a story attached to it whether it is focussed on how we purchased it, the studio visit, or the reactions and conversations to each one from visitors to our homes . This aspect of how we collect particularly struck me when Workplace Gallery exhibited half of our collection to the public: the stories around each art work and the personalities of Collective members were invisible to the public.
So it happened, that this particular reaction to “Head” from my son and his friends encouraged me to get back in touch with Lisa herself and see if she would be happy to have a chat with me about the works we had – and to catch up on what she was doing. Was it the head of the North Korean leader (now so topical)? Why him?, why was the scale of the drawing set within such a large piece of paper? Why the chosen mediums of old GDR paper and Chinese ink? Lisa responded immediately and agreed to have a call.
After working with Wysing Art Studios and Paper Gallery Lisa decided it was time to “push herself more” and has joined a post academic 2 year research programme in Gent, Belgium where she has both studio space and access to a wide variety of visiting artists, curators, theorists and visiting lecturers.
“I have space to experiment and to test without having to produce works for a specific outcome like an exhibition – whatever idea, interest and concern I have, and then see where these ideas go”
Motivated very much by personal interest and concern in politics and history Lisa created both the “head” and “drones” during the period after her father died.
It was her father who would encourage political discussion and an interest in history and his passing came at the time of the last North Korean crisis when Kim Jong-un first came to power .
The use of materials from two communist states – ink from China for her detailed drawings (a technique she learnt in a previous scientific illustration degree) and old, yellowing stock paper obtained from an aunt in East Germany, seem to provide the work with a certain cohesion. A symbolic representation of a communist ideology brought together as one work and charged with questions, messages and an indiscernible meaning as we look on the head of Kim Jong-un.
When I asked Lisa about the small-scale of the drawing in contrast to the size of the paper used she explained
“The world is too overcrowded and complex. It has to be broken down in to small and isolated pieces to allow time – and space – to think and reflect ”
Lisa believes that the technique used to execute the drawings “almost disappear” after the drawing is completed which gives you freedom to reflect on the politics and history of the space.
The dismembered head was a chance to focus on the features of Kim Jong-un’s face – a man with an almost child-like appearance with enormous power at his fingertips. The isolated head spoke to the idea of a “head of state”, an authoritarian rule, communism portrayed almost as a joke.
We ended the conversation talking about the importance of art in domestic spaces which Lisa believes can have a lasting impact on art and culture, perhaps more than the big art fairs. She believes that living with art is much more likely to generate discussion and thought, whether about the artist, the techniques or the subject matter. That desire to produce work that asks questions is so important to the way she produces her art irrespective of the longevity of the materials she uses. Interpretation itself is not essential.
As we said our goodbyes I couldn’t help thinking how inspiring the conversation had been. Now I look at “Head” on the wall across from the table and I see a new layer of appreciation and reflection. A new depth to the story, whatever I might read in to it.