If black and white dominated his earlier canvas, from the late 1970s, Chung Sang-Hwa’s palette went through a sudden transition to blue and brown. Born in Masan, a small harbour city of Korea, Chung Sang-Hwa described his blue as the colour of the Masan Sea. Chung once said, “The world of abstract art is drawing the invisible. However, if you look at the canvas carefully and feel it, you will find the variety in the same blue.” Chung’s blue, from pastel blue to ultramarine, resembles the spectrum of water of the sea after long darkness of midnight. No sea can be captured in a single colour. Sometimes sparkling under the sun and sometimes reflecting the grey sky with clouds, the water of the sea is just there, embracing all colours of nature.
Distinguished from his other blue paintings, Untitled 80-2-B (Lot 5), created in 1980, has an exceptionally wide spectrum of blue, from pastel blue as light as white and cobalt blue that is almost close to purple. In Untitled 80-2-B, rectangular and triangular cracks created by folding the canvas horizontally and vertically multiple times resulted in austere statements of paints. Difference in thickness of paint for every single grid doesn’t let the viewer to define the palette or tone of the canvas with a single colour, changing colour of each block depending on viewing angle. Details of Chung’s colours may not be recognisable at first glance; however, like Pointillism in Georges Seurat’s paintings (Fig.1), paint scraps of distinct colours applied in certain arrangement and pattern complete a seemingly empty blue screen, which in fact contains both the dark colour of earth and the white light of the scorching sun. This violet blue canvas made of various different hues reminds us of the white moon jar with blue pigment of Joseon Dynasty (Fig.2). Although moon jar is not as sophisticated or grandeur as other porcelains in terms of its texture and contour, the rough surface and the white background often containing tiny grits rather let the viewer appreciate the balance in roughness. Also, Chung’s blue resembling the blue pigment for ceramic, imported from Persia and exclusively used for the royal family, imbues Chung’s collage of rough paint scraps with elegance. Chung’s canvas is apparently not a monochrome, but as a whole, the canvas possesses the same perfect balance and tranquility as monochrome porcelain of grace (Fig.3).
Chung is represented by his technique of repetitive application and removal of paint, the technique (Fig.4) that he has insisted for more than forty years since 1968. Chung’s canvas lacks any figurative image or “form” but is present just with layers and scraps of paints, in which the voice of colour becomes the most important. Without any original meaning or label, Chung’s painting as a whole just exists there, providing the viewer with a space for one’s own interpretation and personalisation. As Frieze magazine lauded, this unique physicality of his works is where the viewer unexpectedly finds “the physical analogy of the ‘body” critical in understanding Dansaekhwa.
1.“Skin & Surface”, Frieze Magazine, Issue 169, March 2015