Écriture No. 45-47 belongs to Park Seo-Bo’s iconic series of the same name, which the artist began in the late 1960s. French for ‘writing’, Écriture is a pertinent title for this seminal body of work; although scrupulously contained within a palette of fastidious monochrome, the visceral brushstrokes of the artist’s tenacious hand evoke a vivid notion of texture and establish a lively, relief-like surface. Spanning more than four decades, Seo-Bo’s highly influential corpus stands at the very forefront of Korea’s leading post-war movement of Dansaekhwa, which translates into English as ‘monochrome painting,’ a term robustly manifested in the present work. Situated at a turning point in Korea’s post-war, post-colonial landscape, the Dansaekhwa artists sought to redefine the country’s cultural identity; whilst the West experienced the ascension of gestural abstraction in the form of American Abstract Expressionism in the US and its counterpart, European Art Informel, Dansaekhwa artists independently developed a painterly language that would emphasize the physical nature of material and artwork. The early works from the Écriture series comprise a series of line drawings in which pencils or wooden sticks are dragged through wet oil paint, creating a vigorously multidimensional textural surface of rhythmic repetition. Recounting the core tenet of the artist’s practice, critic Oh Kwang-Su describes: "Park took a pencil, repeatedly drawing lines of a particular length. The pencil drawing upon the still wet canvas creates a factor between the tracks where the lines are drawn and the paint that touches those lines creating an inner design echoed throughout the painting." (Oh Kwang-Su, "The Methods and Times of Park Seo-Bo," in Exh. Cat., Beijing, Arario Gallery, Park Seo-Bo, 2007, p. 124) Seo-Bo’s celebrated Écriture corpus, as exemplified in the present work, broadcasts the sublime serenity and exquisite beauty of Dansaekhwa abstraction, attesting to the visual potency of a tradition that has achieved global significance whilst staying true to the particularities of its cultural origins.
Yielding a profoundly delicate aesthetic, Écriture No. 45-47 reveals the unique locus of the artist’s oeuvre between the traditional visual paradigm of Korean artistic tradition and the gestural and minimalist proclivities of Western Contemporary art. Swooping gracefully across the alabaster picture plane, the soft textural inflections and elongated lines of the Écriture paintings powerfully evoke the esteemed and celebrated Korean tradition of calligraphy, an art form that holds the aesthetic integrity of legible linguistic signs as paramount to the creation of an ocular experience. Park Seo-Bo further locates his practice within the context of Korean tradition by articulating the influence of meditative Taoist and Buddhist philosophy upon his work, noting: “I want to reduce the idea and emotion in my work, to express my interest in space from the view of nature. Then I want to reduce that – to pure emptiness. This has been an old value that still exists in oriental philosophy where nature and men are one.” (the artist cited in Exh. Cat., London, White Cube, Park Seo-Bo, 2016, n.p.) Conceptually, the artist’s engagement with writing and the endless reverberation of the line embraces a cerebral and minimalistic rationality that is reminiscent of the graphic scribbles of Cy Twombly; similar to Twombly’s famous series of Blackboard paintings, the free-floating movement of Seo-Bo’s Écriture paintings achieve a dreamily abstract form that transposes the spheres of language and writing into metaphysical space. Likewise, the austere and inherent simplicity Seo-Bo’s neutral color palette aesthetically relates to the Western Minimalists, inviting comparison to the tactile and achromatic canvases of Robert Ryman and the early White Paintings of Robert Rauschenberg. Unlike these artists, however, Park Seo-Bo’s exquisitely delicate treatment of surface and the loosely regimented poeticism of his forms forge an entirely non-derivative aesthetic realm that favors judicious peace over unbridled passion. Considering the Western concept of minimalism in relation to his work, Park Seo-Bo explains that his paintings are in essence “more related to the oriental tradition and its spiritual concept of space. I am more interested in space from the point of view of nature. Even though my paintings may represent an idea about culture, the main focus is always based on nature. In other words, I want to reduce the idea and emotion in my work, to express my interest in space from the view of nature. Then I want to reduce that – to pure emptiness. This has been an old value that still exists in oriental philosophy where nature and men are one” (Park Seo-Bo cited in: Exh. Cat., London, White Cube, Park Seo-Bo, 2016, n.p.) With mesmeric effect, Park Seo-Bo conflates various visual paradigms in the present work: of writing and drawing, of stasis and kinesthesia, of honored tradition and radical innovation. Standing before Écriture No. 45-47, we witness an entrancing tapestry that simultaneously insinuates the panoramic access to vast geological strata, the regularity of a man-made pattern and the symbolic appearance of text, whilst never settling within any of these illusions.
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