Lot 1072
  • 1072

Ha Chong-Hyun

1,000,000 - 2,000,000 HKD
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  • Ha Chong-Hyun
  • Conjunction 97-030
  • oil on hemp cloth
signed and titled in Hanja and English and dated 1997 on the reverse, framed


Hakgojae Gallery, Shanghai
Acquired by the present owner from the above


China, Shanghai, Hakgojae Gallery, Unconstraint Creation, 20 December, 2014 - 8 February, 2015

Catalogue Note

Visceral Minimalism: Beyond the Monochrome
Ha Chong-Hyun

I had to approach the concept of painting the other way round. So I had to push the paint from the back of the woven burlap canvas against common sense. I had to make my canvas with burlap that used to be used to transport relief goods across war-stricken Korea as well as oil paint of the right viscosity in order to push the paint from behind. It all led to an unprecedented style. – Ha Chonghyun1

Ha Chonghyun's celebrated Conjunction series catapulted the artist to prominence in the early 1970s. Trading ordinary canvas for burlap, a coarse multi-purpose material used by US military bases and aid organizations operating in South Korea at the time, Ha applied thick oil paint to the back of the burlap and applied pressure to the pigment, forcing it slowly and painstakingly through the weave. The artist refers to the labor-intensive process as bae-ap-bub (back-pressure method). The paint that bleeds through to the front side of the canvas is then scraped into stunning abstract matrices that preserve and emphasize the materiality of both hemp and pigment.

During the early 1970's Ha left the seeped paint as is, allowing its raw plasticity to speak for itself. In later years Ha turned to muted earth-toned hues, exploring the monochrome as a vehicle of alternative concealment and exposure, incising strategic patterns that counteracted sublimely with the burlap's raw organic textures. In the current lot (Lot 1072), the resulting surface is simultaneously minimalist and primitive, resembling parchment, tree bark, or light scrapes made on cement and snow. Joan Kee, the first Western scholar to study and promote Korean Dansaekhwa academically, described Ha as one of the few artists able to "link monochrome and all its connotations of purity and autonomy with its opposite, in this case the feral, or even fecal, viscera from which the monochrome is allegedly immune".2

A skilled calligrapher, Ha transfers the deftness of his touch from brush to palette knife to crude tools, wielding short, flat wooden sticks to create the effect of fingers dragging through paint. The critic Nakahara Yusuke described Ha's dexterous strokes as being "fingerlike"—a description that affirmed his idea that the title Conjunction referred to "the union between oil [paint] and [the artist's] fingers".3 The frayed coarseness of Ha's marks accentuates the deeply materialist nature of his commitments, dispelling any suspicion that his paintings might be indexical in any way;4 the technique itself, on the other hand, merges the purity of the painting medium with the artist's own bodily physicality, creating an uncanny fusion between the visual with the tactile.

In his exhibitions in the 1990s, Ha's paintings were often misread as responses to Western minimalism. The apparently minimalist exterior of Ha's paintings, however, is the result of arduous accretion rather than reduction, of layering rather than paring down. While Western monochrome art reached the apex of formalism, Ha meditated unrelentingly on the properties, sensibilities and limitations of materials, achieving a sublime harmony between nature and control, the inner and outer and the body and mind. The contemplative energy that pervades the current lot is the result of simultaneous self-awareness and self-negation in the face of the silent beauty of the organic and the infinite.

1 Kwon Mee-yoo, "Trinity of burlap, paint and Ha Chong-hyun", The Korea Times, Septmber 2015

2 Refer to 1

3 Joan Kee, "In Plain Sight", in Ha Chonghyun, Blum & Poe, Los Angeles, 2015, p. 27

4 Refer to 3, p. 24