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Mirang Wonne: Fire Script

April 10 – June 15, 2014



The work of Bay Area artist Mirang Wonne is rarely as it seems. Rich with complexity and surprising dichotomy, her pieces weave together art and industry in unique and compelling ways. Borrowing inspiration from nature, Wonne’s imagery is reminiscent of botanical and maritime forms—tangled and overlapping tree branches, sea kelp, and anemones. Yet the infusion of nature is subtle, each motif toeing the line between representation and abstract design.


Born in Korea as the youngest of six, Wonne was raised in a supportive environment where her parents—her mother, a fashion designer; her father, an educator—actively encouraged her artistic talent. She doodled freely, using her school notebook and various other surfaces (including the attic walls) to draw. In contrast to the liberal environment fostered by her parents, Wonne’s formal education was structured. After graduating from art school with honors, she continued her graduate school at Seoul National University. She then received a scholarship from the French government to attend the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, and went on to study aesthetics at the University of Paris 1, Sorbonne, where she earned her doctorate.


Wonne’s first solo show took place in the large pavilions of the Parc Floral de Vincennes, Paris. Her exhibit used Korean traditional materials as Hanji (mulberry paper) to interpret Asian concepts of co-existing “Nature” and “Us.” Wonne’s subsequent installation pieces were shown at several museums, including the Grand Palais and the Paris Musée National d’Art Moderne.


After teaching briefly at Seoul National University, Wonne immigrated to the United States. In 1984, Wonne moved to the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband. She began painting at the Hunters Point Shipyard in San Francisco in 1997.


Although trained in more traditional mediums such as oil painting, Wonne has always been eager to experiment with other mediums, and allows the materials to guide her. In 1999, Wonne exhibited her first major installation solo show, using mainly copper metal, at the Pacific Heritage Museum in San Francisco. She continued to exhibit at the Villa Montalvo and at the Redding Museum of Art, and at various other commercial galleries.


In the mid-2000s, a serendipitous discovery opened a new path of exploration in her work. Wonne had a vision for an installation in Korea, and tried to weld small pieces of stainless steel mesh. Wonne’s attempt was unsuccessful, but the effort led to an important discovery. As the blowtorch touched the edge of the mesh, a delicate rainbow patina emerged. That experience ultimately pushed Wonne’s work in a new direction.


Since her discovery a decade ago, Wonne has been using this method to paint with fire. Using a blowtorch, she draws directly onto thin wire mesh screens. Her work is intuitive, made without a plan for formal execution. Her gestures are fluid and almost calligraphic, like the Sumi ink traditions of her ancestors, and her imagery draws inspiration from nature. This work has been exhibited at several International Art Fairs and museums, including the SF Asian Art Museum, Triton Museum of Art in Santa Clara, Sung-Gok Museum in Seoul and In-Chon Emigrant Museum in Korea.


From a distance, Wonne’s pieces appear to be shimmering swaths of silk, but upon closer inspection their sharp metallic nature becomes apparent. For Wonne, this element of illusion is a direct reflection of life. It is a reminder that life is simply a continuous illusion: life may seem eternal and beautiful, but in fact, it is just multiplication of instance and ephemera as the sunlight of day. Only our desire and love hold them here.


—Lindsey W. Kouvaris

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