Ecriture No. 212-85

Ecriture No. 212-85
signed, titled, dated and inscribed in Korean; signed PARK, SEO-BO (1931-), titled ECRITURE NO. 212~85, inscribed '72.5cm x 60.3 cm OIL ON HEMP CLOTH 1985 (SEOUL), signed S.B Park (on the reverse)
pencil and oil on hemp cloth
60.3 x 72.5 cm. (23 3/4 x 28 1/2 in.)
Painted in 1985
Private collection, Asia

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Annie Lee

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Lot Essay

Born in 1931, Park Seo-Bo is one of the key figures at the heart of Korea's Dansaekhwa, or Monochrome Painting Movement. After graduating from Hongik University, Park, together with artists such as Ha Chong-Hyun and Kim Tschang-Yeul, initiated the first Korean post-war art movement, the InformelArt Movement, when they established the Hyundae- Mihyup group, which was successful in helping Korean artists gain entry into the Paris Biennale and the Sao Paulo Art Biennial. The influences of the Second World War and the Korean War were instrumental in fostering the Monochrome Movement, as artists employed repetitive painting techniques to help them reflect on, disperse, and dissolve the complex mix of feelings that were remnant from those wars. For a number of decades after the '60s, the Monochrome Movement played an iconic role in the development of Korean art, and along with the Gutai Group in Japan, was an important force exerting far-reaching influence in contemporary Asian art history.


The Park Seo-Bo work presented here, his Ecriture No. 212-85 (Lot 45), is an intricate work from Park's prime as an artist. Dating from 1985, by which time Park had gained the technical control necessary for his style, it is a masterful expression of the concepts of his Ecriture series. On top of several thin layers of white oil pigments, Park mixes misty grey and ivory yellow for a pearly white effect; then, by means of 'instinctive scribbling' with a pencil, he produces the rhythmically flowing pictorial surface seen here. The creative methods behind this work originated in the late 1960s and have continued in use for over 50 years, as its meticulous brushwork and precise applications of pressure have continued to evolve and undergo adaptation for various mediums. The artist draws lines directly in the still-wet pigments with the pencil, creating a three-dimensional relief effect; the tracks of the pencil as it passes through the oils leave a record of the degree of force used and the style of the brushstrokes. These techniques recall the white porcelains of Korea's 15th Century Joseon Dynasty, in which floral designs were incised in the wet clay of the utensil. Here, Park has successfully borrowed the concept of relief sculpting on porcelains for use in a two-dimensional work, while his mark-making methods transform that work from a painting into a freestanding object.


Producing a repetitive painting involves philosophical thought far beyond the mere physical surface of the work, in a process that involves clearing the mind and purifying one's thinking. Employing such a process, Park was able to reduce some of his anxieties from the past, and further, to seek his essential self, until he reached the point of complete emptiness. These ideas are reminiscent of the approach of American Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko, in works such as his No. 11 (Untitled) ; Rothko's total attention was absorbed in the act of applying repeated layers of colour, which likewise made his working process an act of spiritual practice and cultivation for the artist. In the act of painting, the artist strengthens both his own self-awareness and the sense of transcending mere personal concerns, in a kind of mental cleansing that allows a closer approach to nature. Achieving such a state was in fact exactly what Park Seo- Bo stressed as his core creative principle. For that reason, the goal of painting and aesthetics was in his view already separate from creative work, and instead, was closer in meaning to cultivation of the spirit.


The central artistic axis of the Monochrome Movement was the Eastern tradition of the scholar-painter, but aspects of the natural world also informed its creative spirit. The Korean term 'myobup,' or 'manner of depiction,' refers to a kind of ink-wash painting technique using fine lines to depict the contours of its subjects in outline. In Ecriture No. 212-85 , Park's layers of repeating lines present the viewer with visual textures derived from Eastern calligraphy, with its warm, glistening inks and bold, beautiful brushwork. Park believed that the real, essential self, by means of Eastern calligraphy, which contains 'qi,' the accumulated life force of the multitudes, can convey the essence of life. His brushwork is reminiscent of the Water Album of the Song's Ma Yuan. Ma Yuan was able to present water, a substance with no specific image, so successfully through his abstract lines that he captured the form and spirit of water in each of its moods — graceful, surging, peaceful, or broad and open. Park, however, to attain a state of emptiness and nothingness, does away with even any sense of image. As he put it, 'I am specifically trying not to insert meaning; my works do not possess that which is called an image. Since there is no image, there is no specific expression of meaning.' As the tip of Park Seo-Bo's writing instrument touches the canvas, he is strengthening his ideas, emptying his mind, and letting the startling expanse of space before him transport him into a supernatural state. Against the zeitgeist of his times, with his totally new abstract viewpoint and creative creed, Park Seo-Bo attempted to liberate Korea's contemporary art, freeing any number of creative minds from the confines of its stereotyped conservatism. Park's artistic ideas helped him become one of the most important artists in the Monochrome Painting Movement. His work has received showings at major museums throughout Korea and the world, including in Brooklyn, New York, the National Museum of History in Taipei, Taiwan, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul, and the Tate Liverpool. The well-known French artist Pierre Restany gave Park high praise: 'There is one thing of which I am sure: Park Seo-Bo will go down in history as the great sage of the "all-over" painting style.
This Korean painter has achieved an original minimalist synthesis somewhere between Pollock and Yves Klein.'

Many people believe that filling one’s bowl called self, and with heaps of self is being honest to oneself. However, I strive to empty the bowl instead of filling it. -Park Seo-Bo

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