Burnt Umber & Ultramarine Blue

Burnt Umber & Ultramarine Blue
signed in Korean, signed 'YUN HYONG-KEUN', titled 'BURNT UMBER & ULTRAMARINE BLUE', dated '1992 (on the reverse); inscribed '100F' (on the stretcher)
oil on linen
162 x 130 cm. (63 3/4 x 51 1/8 in.)
Painted in 1992
Private collection, Asia

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Annie Lee
Annie Lee

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Lot Essay

Yun Hyong-Keun is widely known for his simple yet highly meditative paintings, evoking the concept of nature in art, a core idea of traditional Asian ink painting. Along with Park Seo-Bo and Chung Sang-Hwa featured in this Evening sale, Yun is considered the most important figures from the Dansaekhwa movement. Inspired by Kim Jeonghui and the traditions of Asian ink painting, Yun deployed great reserve when making his paintings, seeking to remove all traces of his own aesthetic intentions. After applying layers of pigment, his canvases were left upright to dry, allowing the organic effects of gravity to pull the paint deeper into the weave of the linen. Speaking of his timeconsuming and labour-intensive approach, Yun explained his desire ‘to erase what the eye sees in the present. I look at it again with a new perspective after time has passed. Once I discover something new, I will make a few changes. After doing this process many times, my work will be complete.’ Deeply admired by Donald Judd for the meditative nature of their execution, Yun’s demarcated bands of colour appear before the viewer as a single, modulated continuum: as temporal, rather than geometric, constructs, comparable to fading leaves or rippling water.

In this way, Yun’s work appears to be a part of nature, or even being unified with nature, without any hint of artifice. His process of art displays a state of making and unmaking; the results bridge a character between made and unmade. Yun’s ultimate philosophy of nature and art is the most significant element that differentiates his art from Western abstract painting which emphasizes the artificial process by the artist rather than affirming a harmony with nature. Yun finds most insight from the moment of being his most ‘natural’ self, unlike Western artists who pursue inspiration from unusual moment and energy. Yun aims to exclude from his art anything artificial or compulsory, which can risk appearing to be apart from nature. About being with nature or becoming nature, Yun once professed, ‘I want to make paintings that, like nature, one never tires of looking at. That is all I want in my art.’

Throughout Yun’s artistic development over six decades, Kim Whan-Ki, one of the most important pioneers in the history of Korean abstract painting and his father-in-law, was another inspiring mentor to him, especially for a sense of materiality. As Yun gradually transited from using heavy texture to applying only a thin surface echoing Asian ink painting, Yun’s 1971 painting, Blue explicitly displays this transformation from the thick density of his early 1960s paintings to a diluted pigment completely absorbed into the canvas as if the paint were ink fading onto paper. As early as 1973, Yun started experimenting with his signature colours of using two kinds of oil pigments as a symbolic depiction of the earth; Burnt Umber represents earth, and Light Ultramarine the ocean.

As this master piece, Burnt Umber & Ultramarine Blue (Lot 41) from 1992 featured here exemplifies, the unique mixture of two pigments allows a colour of great range and depth, which Yun preferred to call “the colour of rotted leaves.” Opposed to the deliberate application of thick oil paint, this diluted thin paint naturally drives Yun to release any compulsive desire to control his material and invites nature to create various textures and 1a great range of absorbency. More importantly, this process allows Yun to add the concept of time into his painting.

Yun ceaselessly continued his artistic and technical experiments to find his own colour and style since the early 1970s. As this meditative painting from 1992 illustrates, Yun's art is the passage which connects the poles between artificial and nature. With its shimmering bands of colour seeping directly into the surface of the linen, Umber-Blue is a glowing apparition from Yun Hyong- Keun’s definitive series of abstract paintings. Applied in multiple layers of paint thinned with turpentine, the artist’s signature burnt umber and ultramarine pigments saturate the fibres beneath, bleeding and darkening into deep, burnished stains. The fading columns of deep brown coloured paint disperse at its edges, dissolving into the empty space around it, marking its existence, evoking the ephemerality of our life.

Selected venues for Yun’s solo exhibition include the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Strasbourg, the Stiftung Für Konkrete Kunst in Reutlingen, the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, and Donald Judd Foundation in New York. His works can be found in the public collections of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Gwacheon, The Samsung Leeum Museum of Art in Seoul, the Fukuoka Art Museum in Fukuoka, the Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art in Kitakyushu, the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art in Hiroshima, The Chinati Foundation in Marfa, M+ Museum in Hong Kong, among many others.

It is just a matter of time before everything that stands on the earth will return to dirt. When I think of how I, and my paintings too, will also in due time be reduced to dust, it strikes me that nothing in this world is that tremendous. But at the same time, during that limited time I have life here, I can keep a record-all I can do is keep a record, day by day, that serves as evidence, as a trace of the flame that is my life. - Yun Hyong-Keun

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