At first glance, Chung Sang Hwa’s abstract paintings appear deceptively simple. Largely monochromatic in composition, each work is scored with patterns of grids and lines, precise yet organic, each oblong shape delineated by tiny ridges of paint. Yet, when standing before his work one cannot help but lean in for a closer look, as the infinite nuances of light and shade that make up the painted surface reveal the painstaking labor that went into the creation of each unique work.
To create his mesmerizing paintings, Chung Sang Hwa has developed an iconic “rip and fill” technique that begins with the stretching of raw canvas over a wooden frame. A thick layer of kaolin clay, glue, and water is applied to the canvas surface and left to dry, then the backside of the canvas is scored with a fine grid of lines. Using these lines, the artist carefully folds his canvas, creating geometric tiles of clay bordered by cracks. These tiles are then selectively peeled off and removed, then re-filled with layers of acrylic paint, sometimes in the same tone, other times in subtly different hues that highlight the textural precision of the work. In this way, the entire canvas is covered using a process of repetitive ripping and filling, resulting in the overall balance of the final composition.
Not only do Chung’s works inspire close observation on the part of the viewer, but they also serve as a visual testament to the contemplative duration that he invested during the creative process. "I think Chung approached painting not just as an object, but as a question of time: the labor he invested was a way of making that very clear,” says Joan Kee, a scholar of Dansaekhwa art. “It takes a long time to produce a single work. Not only is there repetition, but there are long periods of waiting — waiting for paint to dry, to peel, to chip away, and so forth. There is density of material, but also density of duration."