The meditative quality in Korean artist Lee Ufan’s seemingly minimalistic paintings has transcended art beyond the parameter of mere paint and canvas. What it evokes is the ethereal notion of immateriality and resonance that is omnipresent within our daily life. Also a writer, theorist, and poet, Lee Ufan is known to articulate his thoughts through a variety of channels that dwell upon Eastern cosmology and Western philosophy, which led to his founding of the renowned “Mono-ha” movement in 1960s Japan, producing a distinguished body of works that subtly moves away from major trends in the contemporary art world. Born in 1936 in South Korea, and working primarily between Kamakura, Japan and Paris, the artist has continually advocated on the act of un-painting and un-doing in his artistic practice. As explained by the artist, “although all things change in various ways, the world does not overflow or become smaller. Everything exists as it is, as it exists.” Thus, to truly show this world as it is, “we have to try and do nothing.”1 The ongoing Correspondance series from 1991, in which the lot on offer belongs, is arguably the most iconic painting series ever created by the artist. Consisting usually of one to six, wide brushstrokes on a vast white surface, the series essentially plays out to the intertwining ideal of gesturality and fluidity of art.

In Correspondance from 2001, a vertical brushstroke is settled in the lower central area of the primed white canvas. The gradient appeal of the light gray is expressed through the solidified texture of the paint. Furthermore, composed of a mixture of oil with stone pigments, the thickness of the paint, and the body movement of the artist are together crystallised within the single brushstroke. Comparing with earlier works from the series that contain multiple brushworks, the lot on offer is ever more significant as it epitomises the reduction process integral within Lee’s practice, highlighting the artist’s continual exploration into the living art form. The aesthetics of the painting might be reminiscent of a minimalist work, yet there is certainly a difference between the two. While minimalists believe that “what you see is all that there is to see”, Lee Ufan instead states, “what you don’t see is all that there is to see.”2 In addition, the artist does not relate to the objectivity of painting that is embraced by other Western modern artist such as Lucio Fontana and Yves Klein. What he stresses on, is the encounter with “phenomenon of empty, resonant space”3 that is created through a juxtaposition of the painted and the un-painted, as seen in the lot on offer. The relationship between the two, and with the viewer, is precisely the essence of Lee’s painting works. According to the artist, it is only through an understanding or acknowledgement of this relation, can painting ultimately “leap in either direction, toward reality or toward ideas.”4

1 Okyang Chae-Duporge, “Untouched space in the works of Lee Ufan”, Lee Ufan, Musee d’art moderne, 2006 p. 32
2 Okyang Chae-Duporge, “Untouched space in the works of Lee Ufan”, Lee Ufan, Musee d’art moderne, 2006 p. 30
3 Lee Ufan: The Art of Encounter, Lisson Gallery, 2008 p. 23
4 Refer to 3 

Contemporary Asian Art

6 October 2013 | HONG KONG