LEE UFAN (B. 1936)
LEE UFAN (B. 1936)
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LEE UFAN (B. 1936)


LEE UFAN (B. 1936)
signed and dated ‘L. UFan ‘01’ (lower right edge); titled, dated and signed ‘Correspondance 2001 Lee Ufan’ (on the reverse)
oil, glue and mineral pigment on canvas
228 x 182 cm. (89 3/4 x 71 5/8 in.)
Executed in 2001
Gallery Hyundai, Seoul, Korea
Private Collection, Asia
Anon. Sale, Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 6 October 2013, lot 931
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Brought to you by

Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡) Deputy Head of Department

Lot Essay

“The mutual limitation that takes place between inside and outside purifies theact of making and pushes it to a higher dimension. It might be said that thisdesire to polish the self by limiting one’s interactions leads to endless repetition.The expansiveness of a dialogue ofcorrespondences suggests the breath and sublimity of eternity.”-Lee Ufan

As Correspondance featured in this evening sale exemplifies, this series is about creating empty yet filled with meditative space. The play of the two regions of painted space versus unpainted space holds an important fascination for a globally sought-after artist, Lee Ufan and this painting displays the culmination of his artistic practice both in spiritual and technical respects. In his early series, From Point and Line (1972-84), Lee sought a harmony between the painted and unpainted spaces. While his next Wind Series (1982-91) apparently presents a more forceful painting style which focused on the dynamic energy of his paint strokes, the intervals between the paint remained crucial. After Wind series, Lee introduced a matured meditative space, emphasizing the play of the two regions as apparent in his Correspondance (1991-2006) and moved to Dialogue since 2006.

The two concepts of 'encounter' and 'body' are also crucial to fully understand Lee Ufan's work. His central concept of ‘encounter,’ is thoroughly articulated in his famous 1970 essay, “In Search of Encounter.” He stressed the importance of the ‘body’ as well, the interconnection between the body, the mind and the world. Through his oeuvre, Lee visualized his core concept of encounter, in other words, relationship with others, and the body as a significant medium for the encounter, a direct experience between matter and existence. This lot is a great example how he realizes his concepts of ‘encounter’ and ‘body’.

As this painting articulates, Lee would layer his strokes three or four times over a period of days with a wide-tipped brush and a refined gradation of thick pigment, applying a new layer of paint onto a halfwet surface. This highly labour-intensive process often takes the artist one month of repetitive action to complete one work. This choreographed and deliberate movement of the brush echoes the practice of Asian ink painting—great masters were said to have controlled and concentrated on every movement of the body, including their breathing, to compose their works. His works are imbued with a certain depth and vitality whose roots trace back to Lee’s early literati training in classical Asian art.

Indeed, Lee was educated as a child in traditional East Asian philosophy with emphasis on calligraphy, poetry, and literati painting. He developed a serious interest in the arts at Seoul National University and realized that a solid philosophical training was essential for him to become an international artist. During the mid-1960s he established himself as a key theorist and artist of the Monoha movement, materialbased art movement of Japan in the 1960s and an influential figure of the Dansaekhwa movement during the 1970s and 80s, which reached culmination by his Dialogue series both in spiritual and technical respects.

As this lot exemplifies well, his compositions in Correspondance communicate a hope for simplicity, peace, and understanding that stems from the artist’s philosophical beliefs. It is in this simplicity of form, material, and action that Lee Ufan’s works expand the artistic dialogue of contemporary art, his process much resembling that of Richard Lin. With a new fusion of identity and experiences, Lee Ufan’s painting demonstrates a possibility for a solely distinct Asian contemporary artistic language that declares itself independent from and entirely equal to the Western model. A minimalist painter and key player in Korea’s Dansaekhwa movement, a leading arttheorist of Japan’s Mono-ha group, a philosopher who is equallyversed in Western philosophy and Eastern ideology—it seems that Lee’s illustrious and peripatetic career defies any single category orlabel, just as Lee himself transcends any one nationality, practice, ormovement.

Lee’s work is a form of calligraphy, an entirely new abstract representation of spirit and material unified into one. In this way, he successfully opens a new possibility of painting by distinguishinghis work from Western geometric abstract paintings that primarily focus on form. Lee’s art is the medium or passage which connects the poles between the artificial and nature, myself and others, making and unmaking, and made and unmade. His Correspondance series offers an approach to space characteristic of Buddhist philosophy:“Buddhism teaches that being is possible only because there is alsonothingness, and appearance coexists with disappearance.” Here, the painted and unpainted both hold an equally important place in our interpretation of the painting as well as our interpretation of our body in relation to the painted and unpainted space.

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