- Lee Ufan
- From Point
- mineral pigment and glue on canvas
The Red of the Earth
Lee Ufan's From Point (1972-1984) series are among the most seminal of works from his legendary career, and the current lot (Lot 1018), executed with a striking burnt reddish orange pigment instead of the more commonly seen cobalt blue, is a rare and exceptional example of Lee's singular style of abstract materialist minimalism. In the work, Lee loads his brush with a powdery emulsion that combines ground mineral pigment with animal-skin glue, a mixture traditional to East Asian silk painting. He then produces regular dabs on the canvas from left to right until there is no more colour left. Lee's minimalism employs seriality, repetition, the grid structure and the monochrome to emphasize his meditative gestural mark, which represents a physical affirmation of existence, a measurement of passing time as well as a testament to the intrinsic beauty of material.
In restricting of his palette to a single colour, with red evoking the earth and blue evoking sky, Lee foregrounds the materiality of both gesture and pigment. By placing his canvas on the floor and painting with his entire body, Lee enters into an intimate relationship with the very process and materials involved in his art. Furthermore, his minimal, gestural act induces in the viewer a lived experience of passing time and physical (not depicted) space; the artist explains that "because each mark and brushstroke, which creates its own space-time, has a strong presence, I cannot be permitted to paint over, to touch it up. Each moment of time occurs only once, but because everything is a continuation of single moments, it is necessary for them to repeat and resonate with each other."1
For his paint, Lee combines nikawa (animal-skin glue) with ground mineral pigment, a mixture that recalls the materials used in traditional Japanese Nihonga painting. Using Eastern materials to paint on a distinctly Western surface, Lee shattered limitations that confined classically trained Asian artists. While works on canvas are conventionally regarded as a Western art practice, the combination of pigment and canvas allowed Lee's concept to be understood universally by audiences from both the West and the East. Having established the conceptually pivotal Mono-Ha sculptural movement in the late 1960s, Lee became a highly influential figure who painted in the Korean Dansaekhwa monochrome style, continuing to forge humble yet radical artistic developments in Asia and beyond.
Lee's sublime repetition and meticulous approach explores time as multiple instances of fleeting moments, each unique in the memory it represents and preserves. Each line and dab of the brush is the result of impressive concentration and discipline, and his philosophy extends to the equality between the painted and the unpainted, where the blank areas are just as important in contributing to the overall aesthetic of the painting. Such ideas reflect recurrent themes in the artist's oeuvre: the inherent, unadulterated beauty of materials, the passage of time, and infinity. A philosopher as well as an artist, Lee's body of work revolves around the notion of the encounter, his art encouraging viewers to see the bare existence of what is before us and to focus on "the world as it is".
1 Lee Ufan, The Art of Encounter, ed. Jean Fisher, London, 2004, p. 202