‘My work is related to the oriental tradition of space, the spiritual concept of space. I am more interested in space from the point of view of nature. Even though my paintings may represent an idea about culture, the main focus is based on nature … I want to reduce the idea and emotion in my work to express only that. I want to reduce and reduce – to create pure emptiness. This has been an old value that still exists in oriental philosophy where nature and men are one’
‘By moving beyond image and expression, and focusing on the gesture, he learned to control himself and his surroundings. More important, he learned how to extend himself onto his canvas and become one with his work’
—SOON CHUN CHO
With its hypnotic, undulating script incised into the surface of the pigment, Park Seo-Bo’s Écriture No. 62-81 is a mesmerizing calligraphic vision from his most important series of paintings. Working in pencil upon a thick layer of still-wet paint, the artist traces a sequence of rhythmic, graphic loops, ploughing grooves and furrows into his silent monochromatic field. Acknowledged by Park as one of the finest of its size, the work’s rippling arabesques epitomize the liberated, meditative aesthetic to which the series aspired. Begun in the late 1960s, the Écritures – or Writings – were among the most iconic and influential works to emerge from the pioneering Dansaekhwa movement. Roughly translated as ‘monochrome painting’, the term referred to a group of South Korean artists – among them Lee Ufan and Yun Hyong-keun – who sought to transcend the cultural boundaries imposed by military dictatorship during the 1970s, combining Eastern and Western techniques, media and philosophies to create new forms of abstraction. Park’s technique – also known as ‘Myobop’ or ‘law of drawing’ in Korean – sought to eliminate all form of conscious gesture in a bid to channel the natural energies of the body and the psyche. Dialogues with Western linear abstraction abound: from Cy Twombly’s attempts to un-train his hand, to the automatic drawing practices espoused by the Surrealists, to the graphic incisions of Jean Dubuffet, Antoni Tàpies and other proponents of Art Informel. At the same time, the work is imbued with a lyrical, cursive elegance redolent of ancient calligraphy and Joseon Dynasty inlaid porcelain. Executed in a single sitting, each Écriture generates a new topographical pattern, repeated ad infinitum to the very edge of the support. Described by the artist as a ‘journey of the hand’, the dynamic continuity of Park’s line resembles a polygraph report: an unburdened visual language that, situated between painting, drawing and writing, is equipped to capture the relationship between being and creating.
Deeply inspired by the teachings of Buddhism and Taosim, Park was fascinated by the notion of the artist as a conduit: a vessel for spiritual and existential truth. His Écriture works sought to distil the rhythms of nature via the carnal and neuronal impulses of the human body. ‘I am more interested in space from the point of view of nature’, he explains. ‘Even though my paintings may represent an idea about culture, the main focus is based on nature … I want to reduce the idea and emotion in my work to express only that. I want to reduce and reduce – to create pure emptiness. This has been an old value that still exists in oriental philosophy where nature and men are one’ (Park Seo-Bo, quoted in Park Seo-Bo, exh. cat., White Cube, London, 2016, unpaged). By physically merging himself with the medium, Park believed he was able to tap into the inarticulate patterns of energy that define human consciousness. His use of white played an important role in this mission: a colour that, in Korean culture, historically signifies the immaterial, frequently used to represent light. Unfolding across the breadth of the surface like a mountain range or a series of cresting waves, Park’s graphic coils delineate the invisible forces of time, space and movement, transforming his vacant, dimensionless landscape into a quivering field of human presence. In the Écritures, we are invited to contemplate the experience of touching the void: of glimpsing the vast, blank abyss of nothingness, and of momentarily making a mark upon its empty planes.