- Yun Hyongkeun
- Umber Blue
- oil on canvas
PKM Gallery, Seoul
Acquired by the present owner from the above
Yun Hyongkeun & Kim Tschangyeul
I want to make paintings that, like nature, one never tires of looking at. That is all I want in my art.
- Yun Hyongkeun1
Yun Hyongkeun and Kim Tschangyeul represent two quiet yet resoundingly influential voices in the Korean post-war avant-garde. Both first generation Dansaekhwa artists, their respective iconic oeuvres trace out a singular spirit of silence and purity entrenched in Eastern philosophies of nature and spiritual practices. The two works in the present sale are each rooted in a deep contemplation of the physical and ritualistic properties of water; albeit harbouring drastically different aesthetics and methods of execution, both works draw out an absorbing stillness and meditative clarity that is at once enchanting and transformative.
Umber Blue (Lot 613) represents Yun Hyongkeun’s signature aesthetic that was developed over forty years. Featuring feature superimposed rectilinear forms of umber, the colour of the earth, and ultramarine, the colour of water, the work is inspired in part by nature and in part by the traditional ink-wash paintings of scholar-calligrapher Kim Jeong-hui. Yun Hyongkeun added layer upon layer of paint onto raw canvas and later hemp and linen, often applying new pigments before the last layer had dried. He would then dilute the pigment with turpentine solvent, which is absorbed at a faster rate and allows the mixture to seep into the fibres of the support, staining or encroaching into the unpainted areas. Yun Hyongkeun returned to his paintings from time to time over long periods, allowing the composition to develop organically over days or even months whilst the pigments bled out gradually. Lee Ufan noted: “In the case of Yun Hyongkeun, one suspects that his kind of painting, the kind of arduous labour involved, had to be backed up by his bodily capability which must have been honed through rigorous bodily-spiritual exercises of suhaengja”.2
The resulting forms float within the liminal pictorial spaces as accumulative records of his process, with the deep fields of intense darkness invoking profound meditations on the organic properties of water and the passage of time. In 1974 Yun Hyongkeun visited New York where he encountered the work of Mark Rothko; henceforth his works began an even more rigorous exploration of presence, absence, and compositional space. In turn, Yun Hyongkeun’s works deeply impressed Donald Judd, who detected in them a “palpable presence of unique spiritual quality [...] perceiv[ing] presences in Yun’s works of a kind lacking in his own paintings or those of his contemporaries”.3 In resolving the origins of such a mysterious presence, Richard Vine writes: “Yun spoke of being inspired by the sight of a fallen tree, slowly disintegrating into the earth—of being moved, in other words, by a oneness with nature, in which everything, including mankind, is a co-equal component. There may be an ominous aspect to Yun’s looming monoliths, as mysterious as those at Stonehenge, but ultimately these forms, too, are integrated, under the aegis of Eastern thought, into a harmonious, living cosmos”.4
While Yun Hyongkeun’s works evoke water via method, Kim Tschangyeul’s Waterdrops (Lot 614) depict water in an immaculate hyperrealism that exudes a similarly heightened transcendent aura. Viewed up close, each droplet is an unrecognizable viscous patch of pigment; upon another casual glance, however, immaculate crystalline beads of water magically appear. First emerging in 1972 and henceforth becoming a consistent staple in the artist’s oeuvre, Kim Tschangyeul’s trompe-l’œil paintings are understated from afar and mesmerizing upon prolonged inspection, exuding a mysterious sensual intensity via an exquisite balance between illusion and empiricism. Since water is directly linked to Buddhist notions of ritualistic purification, the current lot marries sublime technical precision with spiritual foundations whilst melding Eastern beliefs and meditative repetition with Western techniques and intellectual concept.
Ultimately, Waterdrops delivers a heightened sense of sensory perception of both ourselves and the world. Kim Yongdae writes in “The Parade of Silence”: “When everything becomes quiet, its real entity comes out from our subconsciousness and delivers a concept. It is our consciousness, neither ‘existing’ or ‘non-existing’, which lies between ‘concept’ and ‘reality’. Moreover it is the hemp cloth of loose and coarse texture which supports the shining waterdrop and the property as a dye painting from a special purpose”.5 Meanwhile, the French poet and critic Alain Bosquiet observed: “The waterdrops are inviting us to a sort of self-metamorphosis [...] a rare hypnotic power, one not to be forgotten”.
1 Writings by the artist, ‘A Thought in the Studio (1976)’, in YUN HYONG-KEUN, exh. cat., PKM Gallery, 15 April – 17 May 2015
2 Yun Hyongkeun: Selected Works 1972-2007, PKM Gallery, Seoul, p. 16
3 Ibid, 17
4 Ibid, 27
5 Kim Yongae, The Parade of Silence, Gallery Hyundai