(Korean, B. 1929)
signed 'T. Kim' in English; titled 'SA0800L2'; dated '2008'; signed in Korean (side of canvas)
oil on canvas
181 x 227.3 cm. (71 1/4 x 89 1/2 in.)
Painted in 2008
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

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Felix Yip
Felix Yip

Lot Essay

Born in 1929, Kim Tschang-Yeul learned classical Chinese calligraphy and Asian philosophy from his grandfather. At the same time, Kim was exposed to Western art by his mother, who passionately encouraged his interest in the arts. Influenced by this early education, Kim majored in painting at the College of Fine Arts, Seoul National University, earning his B.F.A. in 1950. He resumed his study at the Art Students League of New York from 1965 to 1968. After completing the course in New York, Kim decided to move to Paris in order to practice his art in a new environment.
Settling in Paris in 1970, Kim developed his signature style and motif: the representation of the water drop. As he recalls, "I was fascinated by the possibilities of different effects of different shapes, sizes, and surfaces. My concerns were realistic. I wanted to be true to the physical appearance of the water drops and to the optical impressions they make." (Assouline Publishing,The Colour of Nature: Monochrome Art in Korea, New York, USA, 2008, p. 41) For the catalogue of his solo exhibition at the Tokyo Gallery in 1988, he further explained, "I paint water drops because I want to dissolve everything inside them, and return to nothingness. Anger, anxiety, fear-I want them all to become emptiness." (Ibid, p. 42) Kim's praxis is explicitly tied to Buddhist notions of ritual, spiritual protection, and purification. His water drops represent a material manifestation of a monk-like devotion to enlightenment and thus brings the artist in harmony with himself and the world, as in a Buddhist monk's repeated bows and chants in a meditative ritual.
The other signature element of Kim's work is Chinese characters, drawn from his practice in Chinese calligraphy since childhood. PA93020 (Lot 2184) and SA0800L2 (Lot 2185), from 1993 and 2008, are representative examples that demonstrate his mature technique and evolved styles employing the ideograms across the decades. Unlike in other traditional Chinese and Korean literati paintings, it is not essential to interpret the meaning of the Chinese writing in Kim's works. While all characters certainly have meanings, Kim employs them as much for symbolic and aesthetic reasons as for their meaning. His signature style from the 1990s is exemplified by PA93020, filled the ideograms in a varying density as if in the process of either fading away or just coming into existence. This ambiguity of ideograms mirrors and maximizes the ephemerality of the water drop. SA0800L2 is one the best examples demonstrating Kim's continuous artistic development throughout the 2000s. As Lewis Biggs, Director of the Tate Gallery, Liverpool, has written, "Kim's paintings refer simultaneously to the actual, concrete world (of the "ground") and to the metaphoric, potentially cathartic world of his imagery," (Ibid, p. 41). These works are the result of a search to find a new way of expressing ephemerality while also communicating the concrete sediment of time and history.
Kim's exquisite balance of two poles of ephemerality and concreteness and in between demonstrates his sharp conceptualism in existence of being and their relevance to its environment, but most certainly his passion and dedication that is evident in his philosophy and technical dexterity that further extends his art as, equally, his personal form of meditation.

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