Masterfully staging the renowned elegance and performative authority for which Lee Ufan is known and revered, From Line, No. 760219, executed in 1976, is entirely striking in its powerful simplicity. Tension and sensation, presence and absence, the essential binaries of Lee’s art, are expressed in their stunning totality in the present work. The focus of Lee's practice is inextricably bound to these dualities, as equal importance is placed on the artist’s marks and on the areas of quiet pause that emerge between them. The effect is a melodic cadence of undulating rise and fall that imbues Lee’s paintings with a mesmerizing sensation of dynamic stillness. In simultaneous dialogue with the sensibilities of John Cage, and his insistence on the decentralization of the art experience, and the graphic restraint of calligraphy, From Line, No. 760219 visually and philosophically bridges the creative landscapes of East and West in the second half of the 20th century.
From Line, No. 760219 is a classic example of Lee's fundamental From Line works and the related From Point works first exhibited in 1973, canvases which developed the seminal imagery that consumed the artist for the next ten years. Aligned in perfect symmetry along the upper limits of the canvas, Lee’s luminous cobalt strokes disperse into a symphony of floating diaphanous swathes as they journey down the surface of the painting, growing progressively more irregular until they seem to evaporate into absolute pictorial serenity at the bottom edge. In Lee's paintings, the legacy of calligraphic mark-making in Eastern art is stripped to its simplest incarnation, while retaining the maker's internalized qualities of its employment. In his 1975 essay titled "Using a Brush," Lee reflected on the communicative ability of brushwork beyond mark-making alone: "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." (Jean Fischer, ed., Lee Ufan: the Art of Encounter, Cologne, 2008, p. 25)
The result of Lee's philosophical and artistic thinking is an inquiry into the fundamental tenants of experience. Even Lee's description of his artistic process is rich with sensory understanding and ritual practice: "Cobalt blue powdered mineral pigment (or orange powdered mineral pigment) is dissolved in glue, or sometimes in oil, and left for a while until the color stabilizes. Before working, I calm my breathing, correct my posture, and hold my brush quietly." (the artist cited in Exh. Cat., New York, Pace Wildenstein, Lee Ufan, 2008, p. 7) Loading his brush with paint, Lee's measured downward strokes exploit the properties of the medium and reference the act of the painting's creation. By visually traveling the path of Lee's mark-making, the viewer also retraces the artist's process. Thereby, the act of looking also accentuates the temporal element of Lee's work that renders visible the moment of the brush-stroke's creation and the gradual evolution of its transformation through its expiration. Cy Twombly's mark-making comes to mind, as both artists seek to wed the act of making with the act of seeing in their most elemental and basic form. For Lee, the elegant fade of the paint into nothingness leads the artist to recommence his process, and Lee elaborates on the intricacy of this seemingly simple process. As he explains: "In a different way from athletes or Zen priests, I train my mind and body and discipline my behavior in order to obtain greater freedom and enter a more brilliant world. The orderly arrangement of the painted surface is only a superficial result. Following a certain rule may seem to be mechanical or automatic, but actually is not." (Ibid, p. 8).
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