Crossing Borders: ‘A Real Opening of the Heart’

October 21, 2013 at 1:27 pm Leave a comment

Crossing Borders Postcard, Page 2The artistic collaboration began, of all places, with a meeting in an English as Second Language class at the Mid-State Literacy Council. And not a meeting of the actual artists.

The tutor: Elliot Hirshon, son of Stephen ’96g, a recently retired art history professor and photographer. The learner: David Lee, a graphic design student at Penn State from South Korea, whose father, Yongtaek, was a visiting scholar and painter. They chatted about their fathers—as a tutor myself at Mid-State, I know that’s a classic conversation for any pairing between an native English speaker and someone who needs to practice English. This isn’t typical: The sons decided their fathers should meet because they figured the fathers would get along.

The sons were right. The fathers struck up not only a friendship, but an artistic partnership. The result is an exhibition at the HUB Gallery called “Crossing Borders: A Conversation.” It features Stephen Hirshon’s photography, Yongtaek Lee’s paintings, and snippets of poetry chosen by each of the artists. Says Hirshon: “There were twists and turns and unexpected challenges every step of the way.”

The exhibit is striking. Some walls have Hirshon’s photos, big and bold. Some have Lee’s paintings, more delicate with flashes of color. They are positioned throughout the gallery in a way that juxtaposes the similarities and the differences between the artists. I took my news writing class to the reception for the artists Thursday night, and everyone was captivated by the exhibit—and by the artists themselves, who spent a long time answering questions about their collaboration in an impromptu news conference. A handful of students were still picking Hirshon’s brain when the reception ended. Said one of them: “I could talk to him all night.”

Rock With Reflections of Autumn Leaves, by Stephen Hirshon.

Rock With Reflections of Autumn Leaves, by Stephen Hirshon.

The artists worked on the exhibit for a year and a half. Both like to work in series, showing the same object or scene from several different vantage points. Explains Hirshon, “It opens you up to be free of your expectation of what something else.”

Both artists brought that same frame of reference to their collaboration. It’s no wonder their sons thought they’d get along. Both have a sense of play; Hirshon says, “neither of us take ourselves very seriously.” Lee’s work is strongly grounded in Daosim, which has a strong metaphysical component; Hirshon has been practicing meditation for 30 years.

They brought differences, too. They work in different mediums, of course. Lee’s palate tended toward dark, matte, traditional Asian tones; Hirshon, whose academic specialty included the works of Matisse, is full of deep, saturated colors. As they worked together—each creating new works, separately, and discussing them—they began to influence each other. Lee’s work began to pop with new color. Hirshon’s edges began to soften, like the edges of an oil painting.

“We’ve had a wonderful creative dialogue about the works,” Hirshon said. “To the point that we really didn’t know how they were going to hang the show.”

The exhibit will be on display until Dec. 8, and it’s really worth the time to stop by and spend some time with it.

“Yongtaek said it beautifully—for us, it’s been a conversation,” Hirshon says. “It’s been a conversation between two different cultures, really about East and West, and two different media. We’re learning about each other, and now what we get to do is share that conversation with other people. It’s a real opening of the heart.”

Lori Shontz, senior editor

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The Penn Stater Daily — Oct. 21, 2013 The Penn Stater Daily — Oct. 22, 2013

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