Like the artists whom he admires, Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko and Agnes Martin, Byron Kim works in an area one might call the abstract sublime. His work sits at the threshold between abstraction and representation, between conceptualism and pure painting. In his richly hued, minimalist works, Kim seeks to push the edges of what we understand as abstract painting by using the medium to develop an idea that typically gets worked out over the course of an ongoing series. His paintings often appear to be pure abstractions, but upon investigation and contemplation, they reveal a charged space that connects to the artist’s personal experiences and whose underlying ideas raise questions about issues from politics to environmentalism to cultural identity. Interviewed in his sunny Brooklyn studio, Kim quips, “I’m a painter until 2:00 in the afternoon when the daylight in my studio is so blinding that I become a conceptual artist.”
Synecdoche, Kim’s signature work, started in 1991 and exhibited in the Whitney Biennial in 1993, is in the permanent collection of the National Gallery in Washington, DC. This ongoing series consists of a grid of hundreds of small panels that each match to the color of a specific person’s skin. It is both a portrait of people in the artist’s life and an exploration of race and community.