Re: Paradise Between 1 by Hee Sook Kim uses water colors, bright rhinestones, fake fingernails, and printmaking to create a dreamlike, multilayered piece. Paradise Between 1 consists of five parts: one floor-to-ceiling painted canvas and four smaller wood panels. The first (and largest) of these is painted from the top with light blues and whites. We see clouds and a dark blue light that spreads horizontally over a painted landscape that looks like a mountaintop, but whose smudged and dripping paint gives it the simultaneous appearance of clouds, or perhaps water. Over the entire bottom half of the canvas are interspersed a variety of colorful plants and wildlife. Any viewer would instantly notice the butterflies and other animals scattered across the painting, but at first glance, they would look simply painted on; nothing special would appeal to the eye. Looking closer, however, reveals that nearly no butterfly is the same. Almost each is unique, and they all shimmer to the core with the many small, glimmering rhinestones that comprise them. No color is absent. Shades of lavender, aquamarines, scarlets, and numerous other cool and warm tones flood the eyes. To the bottom left corner, a beautifully decorated fish with large, yellow scales can be found looking towards the sky in search of butterflies. On the other side, a majestic crane in an unfamiliar pose looks directly towards a butterfly with its closed, navy blue rhinestone wings possibly preparing for flight. This cross-section of the animal kingdom (from which land-based animals are, interestingly, absent) is paralleled by the flora that surrounds them. Rendered in equally vivid pinks, yellows, and greens are lotus, trees, bright flowers, lily pads, and even coral. And, as if her piece were not lively enough, Kim adds even more complexity by layering various patterned prints and larger rhinestones of different shapes across the canvas. This layering style is not only visually interesting but also confuses any trace of realism in the painting.
Initially, the four small panels to the left of Kim’s main piece seem out of place, yet each panel adds symbolism to Paradise Between. At the top left sits a lotus made of pale white fingernails. Below it, a magpie with fingernail-adorned tail feathers. In traditional Eastern context, the lotus is associated with Buddhism. The Bodhisattva Guanyin, regarded as the emblem of equity, peace, and relief to those who suffer, is often portrayed surrounded by lotus in Chinese and Korean literature. The white fingernail lotus provides both texture and spiritual undertones to the piece. The magpie, likewise, serves as an emblem of peace and good fortune according to Chinese and Korean tradition. In both cultures, the magpie is considered a good omen; its Chinese name 喜鹊 and Korean name 까치 both mean “the bird of joy.” The magpie panel might also be connected to the bottom two panels--a set of multicolored horizontal fake-fingernail stripes and a rhinestone tiger, respectively--as paintings involving magpies perched above tigers have significance in Korean history. Tigers were also thought to repel evil, so perhaps the tiger panel serves a dual purpose. Overall, the side panels employ imagery from Korean culture to reinforce the depiction of “Paradise” on the larger canvas.