Yusuke NAKAHARA <white Korea. five artists FIVE HINSEK>

Critique 평론 2007. 5. 12. 10:22
white Korea.
five artists FIVE HINSEK(;white)

中原佑介 나카하라 유스케

tr: Joseph Love

As it is almost impossible to summarize the characterists of the contemporary painting of any country, it is also extremely difficult to sum up briefly the qualities found in Korea's contemporary painting. That there is a lack of information concerning the directions of this country's art today is a personal reason of my own for the difficulty, but it does not stop there. As far as I have been able to see, a great variety has been displayed. For example in the first half of the 1960s informel's hot abstraction developed, and in the latter half the younger generation concentrated its attention on the relationship between object and image, and the attitude of looking upon painting with a cold eye, as it were, took on great weight. Now even though this can not be called identical to what was going on in the West and Japan, still a parallel line of development is unmistakeable. But this does not mean that all Korean contemporary painting is to be seen in the same context as the art of the West. In the works of some painters we can see elearly characteristics that are not found in the contemporary art of other countries. In the spring of 1973 when I visited Seoul for the first time and saw the works of a number of painters, I received the impression that the paintings whose surfaces colored in secondary tones with an extreme delicacy of finish stood out above the rest. I had entertained the expectation that Korea's painting would be characterized by a general use of primary colors, which conjecture proved groundless. And in this point the contemporary has a similar experience in his expectation that Japanese contemporary painting is delicate, characterized by fine nuances, and when he comes to Japan he is surprised to find his expectation unfounded. It leads me to wonder about the kind of prejudice this expectation is founded on.

On my second Korean trip, this time visiting studio after studio, it struck me that this use of middle tones was not merely a formal technique, but a whole way of thinking about painting. Naturally I did not receive this impression from all the paintings of Korea. And yet this fact of a quality appearing quite clearly in the works of a number of painters can not be attributed to individual sensibility alone, but to something that goes beyond the individual level. The five artists represented in this exhibition do not possess identical aims and methods, but one can perceive something in common that goes beyond individual differences. What can easily be seen as this common quality is the fact white is so decisive in all the works.

The historical part played by white in Korean art is a matter beyond my present knowledge. And yet white is no merely a single color element in the picture surface, but something I feel as the basic organizational factor. Form and color emerge from that white and disappear again into it. We are acquainted with white monochrome paintings, and with others whose keynote is the color white. In contrast to these, the works seen here are quite different from those works whose white is basically the result of subtraction or the erasing of forms. White is not color as the point of conclusion, but the framework itself of a vision of the universe.

It sounds paradoxical, but the white that is the quality in common of the works of these five painters is meaningless to discuss as 'white'. What strikes our eyes is a color or form as a phenomenon of an instant that appears out of a white sea momentarily, only to disappear again into the depths; it is impossible to feel this white as something that supports color or form. To link these works with the tradition of white space in ink painting doubtlessly one way of approaching the problem, and yet what impresses me is that rather than stating everything, this white is like a matrix for the organization and annihilation of phenomena, as something pregnant with temporality. The fact that these pictorial surfaces have no fixed point of focus, and have a plastic form hard to grasp, is connected with this.

Kwon, Yung-Woo and Park, Seo-Bo represent the older generation of this group of five artists, and even though there is a great difference in their procedure, the former employing torn paper and the latter using pencils, both can be seen as similar in their use of repetition techniques. Their repetitions turn into stamps or seal on the picture surface. Kwon pastes paper on the picture surface, and white still wet he pushes it with his fingers to tear it. It becomes shadow spots that spread over the whole surface. Park paints his convas white, and while the paint is still wet he races his pencil over the surface. Naturally Park's works are conspicuous for that dynamic pencil touch, but in the works of both artists can be felt a primeval spectacle taking inchoate form out of the matrix 'white'. It is a mixture of chaos and order.

Suh Seung-Won's work is distinguished by the use of geometric patterns, and it is interesting how the diagrams with comparatively bright colors found there seem to be brought forth by a process of physical crystallization from white as matrix. Or can we call this the world of minerals with their regular formations? In contrast to this, Heu, Hwang is an artist who has also shown white objects. A quality that is growing in his recent works is the melting of those strange shapes into white.

Lee, Dong-Youb is the youngest among these painters, and he is an artist completely different from the other four. His works are typified by the annihilation of objects. In the works in which he painted a glass or one with ice floating in it, the outline of the objects was quite clear, but the outlines have gradually begun to disappear, and in his recent works the delineation of objects has been reduced to the point where only a suggestion of their existence remains. Rather than calling it a form, it is perhaps more proper to speak about in on the level of a momentary phenomenon. Moreover, as we feel it moving away into the distance out of our world of sight, it returns to the matrix white.

Naturally it would be a mistake to claim that these five artists, out of all the world of Korean painting, have exclusive possession of this 'white'. And yet in all this I find it a typical case. The white paintings that Korea's contemporary art has brought forth is something unique that commands our attention.

ref. 1975년 5월 6일 - 24일 일본 도쿄 동경화랑(東京畵廊) <한국 5인의 작가, 다섯 가지 흰색 전>
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