Lot 110
  • 110

Lee Ufan

250,000 - 350,000 GBP
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  • Lee Ufan
  • From Line No. 790228
  • signed and dated 79; signed and titled on the reverse
  • oil and glue on canvas
  • 90 by 116cm.; 35 3/8 by 45 3/4 in.


Private Collection, Asia (acquired directly from the artist)
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate although the overall tonality is brighter in the original. The catalogue illustration also fails to convey the nuances in the colour to the lower half of the composition. Condition: This work is in very good condition. Extremely close inspection reveals a fine, hairline tension crack running intermittently along the extreme outer edges. No restoration is apparent when examined under ultraviolet light.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

From Line No. 790228 is a decisive work by the preeminent Korean artist Lee Ufan and forms part of his seminal From Line series. Produced between 1973 and 1984, the decade-long series documented Ufan’s first experiments with the ephemerality of mineral pigment, laying the foundation for his unique practice of poetic minimal abstraction for the next four decades.  In the present work, lines of cobalt pigment cascade down the naturally toned raw canvas background, with decreasing materiality towards the centre of the canvas. Each rhythmic line contains within it the traces of the artist’s physical movement at the moment of creation and acts as a visual record of the gradual passing of time as the work was produced. Synchronising each brushstroke with the careful rhythm of his breathing, Ufan formed the From Line works as a physical and mental exercise in meditation, each drawn out line dissipating into nothingness as the artist expels the last of his breath before the process begins again. As exemplified in the present work, the series reflects the artist’s musings on the conceptual linkages of materiality and matter, nature and ecology, space and time.

Although born in South Korea, Ufan studied at the Nihon University of Tokyo, and soon after began experimenting with Japanese nihonga painting. In the late 1960s, Ufan was a leading member of the pioneering Mono-ha group of artists in Japan. Translated as the ‘School of Things’, the Mono-ha artists set out to create works that focused on the original beauty of natural materials in order to manifest a compelling organic engagement with the viewer. Deeply philosophical, further, their works reverberated with metaphysical connotations of coexistence, serendipity and interconnectedness. Through his art, Ufan was able to probe his inner ideals deeper. In 1975 he wrote, “expression achieves externality that is simultaneously passive and active. I hope to cut into the controlled everyday reality of industrial society, breathing fresh air into it and stimulating an awareness of infinity that transcends the human, to awaken a world that is always open” (Lee Ufan, ‘On the Hand,’ quoted in: Jean Fischer, Ed., Lee Ufan: The Art of Encounter, London 2004, pp. 42-43).

Here, the inception of the line at the top of the canvas represents the universal starting point for all artistic praxes. In creating the Line works, Ufan mixes ground minerals with nikawa animal-skin glue before applying it to unprimed canvas with a round headed brush. The impact of each defiant brushstroke is accentuated through a technique that fuses the ground minerals to animal-skin glue, such that the start and finish of the lengths are clearly demarcated and defined. As the artist has said, “a line must have a beginning and an end. Space appears within the passage of time, and when the process of creating space comes to an end, time also vanishes” (Lee Ufan quoted in: Jean Fischer, Ed., Selected Writings by Lee Ufan 1970-96, London 1996, p. 54). Equal compositional importance is given to the unpainted areas of the canvas, alluding to the Buddhist notion of ‘nothingness’; the artist refers to this as yohaku, or the art of emptiness. The result is a mesmerising and affective visual experience, a starting point for the viewer’s philosophical and meditative engagement with the work.

The strength of Ufan’s oeuvre attests to his lifetime of study and meditation, and to his multitude of influences, from Asian ink calligraphy to Eastern poetry and fiction. His integration of Eastern and Western teaching has culminated in a harmonious cross-cultural artistic language, pioneering a philosophical approach to monochrome painting that shows ‘the world as it is'.