‘Before working, I calm my breathing, correct my posture, and hold my brush quietly’
(L. Ufan, quoted in Lee Ufan, exh. cat., PaceWildenstein, New York, 2008, p. 7).
‘The scholars of East Asia have thought with the brush for centuries, using it both for writing and painting. The object before the eyes and the image in the mind are all constructed of points and lines, and expressed in rhythm with the rising and falling of the breath. Because of this, the viewer... can observe the dynamic relationship between the painting and the canvas, the condition of the painter’s body, the movement of his heart, his character and the atmosphere of the age‘ (L. Ufan, quoted in J. Fischer (ed.), Lee Ufan: the
Art of Encounter, Cologne 2008, p. 25).
Epitomising Lee Ufan’s relentless artistic and philosophical investigation into the nature of materials, space and experience, Correspondence is a superb example of the artist’s distilled graphic minimalism and powerful simplicity. Lee, who typically works in series that evolve over many years in a Zen-like, meditative fashion, created the first Correspondence painting in 1991. Evolving from his early seminal series From Point and From Line (1972-1984) as an even more demanding exercise of restraint, these paintings are comprised of a few single, short and grainy brushstrokes of blue or grey paint. As Lee stated, ‘Before working, I calm my breathing, correct my posture, and hold my brush quietly’ (L. Ufan, quoted in Lee Ufan, exh. cat., PaceWildenstein, New York, 2008, p. 7). The artist takes a wide brush loaded with a powdery mixture of oil and crushed stone pigment and pulls it vertically, horizontally, or as a combination of both directions, across a monumental white canvas to explore the dialectical relationship between brushstroke and canvas, and, more broadly, the binaries the painted/unpainted and the occupied/unoccupied. With this simple gestural act alone, Lee bestows the vast, empty space of the canvas with striking vibrancy and tension – creating a grand place of emptiness with an unexpected generative and visceral potential. Other works from the Correspondence series have been prominently displayed at the artist’s retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 2011 and are included in renowned international collections such as the Tate in London. Lee has been the subject of major exhibitions, for example at Chateau de Versailles 2014, the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels 2009, the Yokohama Museum of Art 2005 or the Kunstmuseum Bonn 2001, and was awarded the Praemium Imperiale for painting in 2001 and the UNESCO Prize in 2000.
An acclaimed painter, writer, sculptor, and philosopher, Lee emerged in the late 1960s as one of the founders and major theoretical and practical proponents of the avant-garde Mono-ha (literally, ‘School of Things’) group, the first contemporary art movement in Japan to gain international recognition. Rooted in Eastern thought as well as Western philosophy, Lee’s innovative sculpture, site-specific and painterly body of work is concerned with the fundamental notion of encounter. While Lee’s language of seriality, the grid or the monochrome suggests a formal alignment with such great Minimalists as Robert Ryman or Frank Stella, his work differentiates itself
conceptually with its concern for the interaction of the material elements. Rejecting traditional notions of Western representation, Lee puts his brush to the canvas not to create definitive signs or symbols, but with the intention to reveal the communicative ability of the brushstroke. Visually retracing the short path of Lee’s brushstroke from its saturated moment of creation to its gradually fading transformation and abrupt edge, the viewer experiences an uncanny sensation of transient time and physical space. By allowing the act of looking to mimic the creative act of making in such a way, Lee recasts the art object as dynamic event unfolding equally between work, viewer and surroundings.