Kim Tschang-Yeul was born in Korea in 1929, but he went on to spend more than half his life in the West - he lived in New York from 1965 to 1969 and has been based in Paris and Seoul since 1970. However, his work is deeply rooted in Asian philosophy and aesthetics.
Following the Korean War in the 1950s, Kim became a founding leader of a group called the Hyundai [Contemporary] Artists Association. In a similar manner to which the post-war Gutai movement in Japan sought to break free of the constraints of pre-war Japanese society, so too did the Hyundai artists want to establish new means of expression following the anxiety of war. Tschang-Yeul’s work of this period shows an experimentation with North American Abstract Expressionism, European Art Informel, Pop Art and Minimalism. However, he moved to Paris in 1969, and his water drop paintings emerged in 1972, which would become his signature motif. Clear beads of water in trompe-l’oeil cover the canvas. Each drop, although deceptively similar is in fact unique. Furthermore, when viewed from a small distance the drops appear to be three-dimensional and protruding from the plain surface of the canvas, despite being absolutely flat.
In order to achieve this entrancing effect he intensively observed real water drops - dropping them onto canvases, studying how light penetrated them and photographing them in various states.
“I was struck by the emptiness, the nothingness of the water drop, and by its beauty in the fullness of its refraction and reflection of light, by its significance.”1
1. Soon Chun Cho and Barbara Bloemink, The Colour of Nature: Monochrome Art in Korea, (New York, 2008), p. 42