KIM TSCHANG-YEUL (KOREA, B. 1929)
KIM TSCHANG-YEUL (KOREA, B. 1929)

S.A.9200

Details
KIM TSCHANG-YEUL (KOREA, B. 1929)
S.A.9200
inscribed, dated, and signed 'S.A. 9200 7-1992 T. Kim', and signed in Korean (side of canvas)
oil on canvas
72.5 x 59.5 cm. (28 1/2 x 23 3/8 in.)
Painted in 1992
Provenance
Private Collection, New York, USA

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Jessica Hsu
Jessica Hsu

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Lot Essay

"The reason for drawing drops of water is to dissolve everything into drops of water and return it transparently into nothingness. When we have turned anger, unease, and fear into emptiness, we can experience peace and harmony." --Kim Tschang Yeul

Born in 1929 and still working today, Kim Tschang Yeul has become one of the most distinguished and celebrated living Korean artists. Strictly Korean by birth and in his early artistic training, Kim went on to spend the better part of his mature years in the West – he lived in New York from 1965 to 1969 and has been based in Paris and Seoul since 1970. During this time, he became exposed to and well-versed in the then dominant art movements such as European Art Informel, Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, Minimalism, and Photorealism. Kim fuses his mastery in these movements and his thoughts deeply rooted in Asian philosophy and aesthetics into developing his singular style and motif that he continues to work with for more than forty decades to this day: the representation of the water drop.

Kim's paintings of water drops first emerged in 1972 and developed as an iconic motif and his signature style by the mid-1970s that the artist has been continuing to explore with within his oeuvre, presenting this simple subject in a wide variety of contexts and mediums. This rich symbolic implication of the image of the water drop made it an apt vehicle for Kim to not only engage in a personal form of meditation rooted in Buddhist notions and Taoist wisdom through depicting it, but also to allude to an autobiographical journey of his own experience and acceptance through the traumatic years of the Japanese occupation and Korean War living in Korea.

By ceaselessly and repeatedly depicting each water droplet, Kim hoped that the act of painting and the intense continual concentration it requires would bring about a state of serenity, that would allow himself and the viewers to reach a level of mindfulness from the work. On the blank canvas the artist had drawn countless variegated droplets, with each drop having dissimilar refractions and sizes, so that while they appear homogeneous at first glance, closer inspection would reveal great variety instead. What the droplets do have in common is that they each embody the artist's considerable investment in the time-consuming creative process as well as dedication to painting techniques - in effect, every droplet is a testament to Kim's impressive orderliness and control when painting. This link to nature, which is echoed thematically and in the choice of media, as well as the discipline and commitment required in the highly repetitive creative process, is exactly what makes modern Korean abstract artists, such as Park Seo-Bo and Chung Sang-Hwa, stand out in their philosophy and ideology, and what allowed them to find their unique artistic vocabulary among the vast field of abstract art from the East and West.

Painted in 1974, Untitled (Water drops) (Lot 439) is an exceptional work created during the incipient years of Kim's exploration of this simple motif. In this work, a small constellation of glistening water drops occupies a simple and unadorned backdrop of a blank canvas. The water drops maintain a concentrated composition in the lower left quadrant of the canvas, drawing one's eyes to the expansive ground left untouched and unprocessed. Appearing to sit directly on the raw linen surface, this cluster of clear beads of glowing water is executed with immaculate precision and care, each painted drop perfectly imitating the shadows and transparency of real water. Through this use of trompe l'oeil in rendering combined with the Zen practice of repetition rooted in Buddhist traditions, Kim engages in a meditative ritual and a search for purity and calmness in the context of and reaction to the hardships experienced through the post-war period in Korea.

In a more recent work, S.A.9200 (Lot 440), Kim incorporates text into his matrix of the water drops. Drawn from his practice in Chinese calligraphy which he learned at the age of five from his grandfather, a layer of Chinese characters adorns the canvas along the edges, framing the crystalline water droplets. Ed Ruscha similarly engages in a trompe l'oeil rendering of a viscous liquid and explores the tension between text and image in his word paintings. However, unlike Ruscha where the text depicted holds a central role, deliberately chosen for their phonetic qualities and evocative power, it is not essential to interpret the meaning of the Chinese writings in Kim's works. While all characters certainly have meaning, Kim employs them as much for symbolic and aesthetic reasons as for their meaning. To Kim, the blank' areas of the canvas is as important as the figured area, the water drops and the Chinese characters, in creating the painting. S.A.9200 is a representative example that demonstrates Kim's mature technique and style of employing Chinese characters, where an intimate and reciprocal relation is shared between the ground and the support.

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