EXHIBITIONForming Nature: Dansaekhwa Korean Abstract Art More details
Translating as ‘monochrome’, the Dansaekhwa movement was created in post-war Korea by artists wishing to reject the conservative and corrupt National Exhibition. Their style was simple and austere, inspired by traditional Asian ink painting and the beauty of nature.
In recent years, figures from the Dansaekhwa movement and Korean abstract art have been at the forefront of the Asian modern and contemporary art market. This is in part thanks to a comprehensive book about the movement, Dansaekhwa (The Greenfell Press), being published in English for the first time as well as a growing interest among museum curators and scholars in reviving art movements that have been overlooked by history.
But, as Christie’s specialist Yunah Jung explains, perhaps most importantly, the new interest in Korean abstract art comes from ‘the recognition that the works are philosophically profound, visually beautiful, and conceptually unique.’
Park Seo-Bo (b. 1931)
Park Seo-Bo, Écriture No. 41-75, 1975. Oil and pencil on canvas. 51 1/8 x 63 3/4 in. (130 x 162 cm.) This work is offered for private sale in our exhibition, Forming Nature: Dansaekhwa Korean Abstract Art
Park Seo-Bo is one of the most important artists from the Dansaekhwa movement and he played a significant role in liberating artists from the institutional conservatism that prevailed in mid-century Korea. This exhibition features works by Park spanning the early 1970s to the present that epitomise his intense attention to detail. This characteristic can be particularly seen in the tightly repetitive markings of his Ecriture, Myobup series from the 1970s and beyond which evoke the elegance of the eastern tradition of calligraphy painting.
Eastern calligraphy was thought to reveal the universal life force of ‘qi’, transmitting the essence of our being and bringing unity between the artist and his true self. Here Park plays with the infinite aesthetic possibilities of black and white, weaving elegant loops in pencil and transcending the mark on the page to present a universal experience to the viewer.
During the 1980s, Park began working with Hanji — traditional Korean paper. For these works he applied multiple layers of Hanji to the canvas, overlaid with sheets of paper soaked in acrylic paint and ink. Korean art critic Kim Bok-Young said of Park, ‘He does not simply see a piece of paper as something to draw on, but as a solemn object he has to confront.’
Main image at top: Park Seo-Bo, Écriture No. 93-75, 1975. Oil and pencil on canvas. Signed, titled, inscribed in Hanja calligraphy; signed in English ‘PARK SEO-BO’; titled ‘Écriture No. 93-75’; dated ‘1975’ (on the reverse). 51 1/8 x 63 5/8 in. (130 x 162 cm.) This work is offered for private sale in our exhibition, Forming Nature: Dansaekhwa Korean Abstract Art
Chung Sang-Hwa (b. 1932)
Chung Sang Hwa, Untitled (10-15), 2005. This work is offered for private sale in our exhibition, Forming Nature: Dansaekhwa Korean Abstract Art
Chung Sang Hwa, Untitled (90-3)-7), 1990. This work is offered for private sale in our exhibition, Forming Nature: Dansaekhwa Korean Abstract Art
After studying western painting in Paris in the 1960s Chung Sang-Hwa settled in Kobe, Japan, where he developed his ‘rip’ and ‘fill’ paintings, creating complicated grids of horizontal, diagonal and vertical lines and adding depth to the flat surface of the canvas.
Chung first spreads the mixture of kaolin clay, water and glue evenly on the canvas and waits until it is completely dry. He removes the canvas from the wood stretcher and draws grids of horizontal and vertical lines on the reverse. He then carefully folds it along the lines and rips off the paint from the chosen sections. The bare grid underneath is filled with multiple layers of acrylic paint. Chung repeats the actions of ‘rip’ and ‘fill’ until he finds a perfect harmony of reduction and addition, claiming that, ‘The final result is not the target of my work but to present the process of how it is done.’
In this way, French critic Philippe Piguet believes, ‘The paintings of Chung Sang-Hwa are produced in such a way that they offer themselves to sight like screens on which the painter attempts to reveal a double presence, that of the world at its most essential, and his own presence, in all its intensity.’
Yun Hyong-Keun (1928 – 2007)
Yun Hyong Keun, Umber-Blue, 1979-1987. Oil on linen. 51 3/8 x 31 1/2 in. (130.5 x 80 cm.) This work is offered for private sale in our exhibition, Forming Nature: Dansaekhwa Korean Abstract Art
Yun Hyong-Keun is widely known for his simple yet highly meditative paintings, evoking the concept of nature in art, an idea that has been at the core of traditional Asian ink painting for centuries. Yun’s work appears to be a part of nature, completely unified with it, without any hint of artifice.
Carol Vogel of The New York Times points out that one of Yun’s Umber-Blue paintings bears a distinct resemblance to Richard Serra and Barnett Newman’s work while other critics comment that a trace of Mark Rothko is also apparent. However, Yun’s works are not influenced by these Western painters; Korean art critic Hong Gai emphasises the fact that Yun found his creative inspiration in the work of 18th century Korean painter and scholar Kim Jeong-Hui who is known for developing a unique style of calligraphy.
As early as 1973, Yun started experimenting with his signature colours; Burnt Umber represents earth, and Light Ultramarine the ocean. As this 1979-1987 masterpiece 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’.
Chung Chang-Sup (1927-2011)
Chung Chang-Sup (1927-2011), Meditation No.93102, 1993. Best fiber on cotton. 88 1/4 x 48 in. (244 x 122 cm.) This work is offered for private sale in our exhibition, Forming Nature: Dansaekhwa Korean Abstract Art
Chung Chang-Sup (1927-2011), Meditation No.97407, 1997. Best fiber on canvas. 88 1/4 x 48 in. (244 x 122 cm.) This work is offered for private sale in our exhibition, Forming Nature: Dansaekhwa Korean Abstract Art
Chung Chang-Sup is known as the master of ‘Hanji’ due to his extensive use of the traditional Korean paper for his enquiries into meditation. During the 1950s and early 1960s, Chung rigorously explored the possibilities of Western oil paint, displaying a certain affinity in style to the Art Informel movement that prevailed in Paris at that time.
He and his peers became leading figures in the Dansaekhwa movement in the 1970s and shared a desire to create their own style rooted in their cultural identity, while also looking to Western abstract art. Beginning with a thick oil painting technique in the 1950s to the early 1960s, Chung gradually thinned the oil in his work to maximise the incidental effect and explore the spontaneous permeation of paint onto the canvas, recalling the Asian ink painting technique.
In his ongoing search for his own visual language, Chung encountered Tak, a main component of Hanji used in the 1970s. Hanji is also called ‘hundred paper’ due to the 99 steps involved in the complex production process required to make just one sheet. It is extremely strong and widely used in traditional Korean architecture as wallpaper, a window or even a door.
Chung stated that his rediscovery of Tak was inevitable: ‘When I was young, the first thing I saw as soon as I woke up in the morning was soft sunlight penetrating through a Tak paper window… I felt a strong intimacy when reencountering the paper and I was immediately absorbed in experimenting with it for my art.’ During the 1980s, Chung’s Tak series began to lose form completely. The production process and material itself become his art work.
Lewis Biggs, in the curatorial essay for an exhibition entitled Working Nature: Contemporary Art from Korea at Tate Liverpool in 1992, interpreted Chung’s painting as ‘not images but analogies, lyrical recreations of the experience of life, with all its formlessness, its decay and change. It is the paper, not the artist, speaking to us.’
Ha Chong-Hyun (B. 1935)
Ha Chong-Hyun, Conjunction No. 97-035. Oil on hemp cloth. 86 5/8 x 47 1/4 in. (220 x 120 cm.). This work is offered for private sale in our exhibition, Forming Nature: Dansaekhwa Korean Abstract Art
Like his peers, Ha started his artistic career as a painter, associating himself with the style of Art Informel in the early 1960s. Through various experimentations with everyday materials such as flour, paper and wire in the early 1970s, Ha finally encountered the coarse, plain-woven hemp which was widely used as a material for rice bags in Korea at the time.
As soon as he employed it in his art, Ha realised it was the perfect material with which to connect his inner self to the outside world. In order to accentuate its material properties, he applies a thick layer of paint on the reverse of a canvas and presses it until it penetrates to the other side — he repeats the process throughout his Conjunction series of paintings.
Showcased in the exhibition, these works epitomise the evolution of his style throughout the 1980s and 2000s and clearly manifest the idea of painting as a tool for meditation as well as a bodily process. This idea was explained by Phippe Dagen who said that Ha’s limited materials and colours lead to simplicity of composition resulting in a meditative repetition and visual neutrality that work to eliminate the ego and reduce the painting to silence.
It is crucial to understand that the elimination of the artist from the painting is key to Ha’s works; they are an effort to have a sincere conversation with nature, at odds with the ego behind Western Abstract Expressionism.
Forming Nature: Dansaekhwa Korean Abstract Art is on view 6 November — 4 December at Christie’s in Hong Kong
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