When I passively accept external winds, an even greater world is opened.
Executed in 1982, the present work is an early archetype from Lee Ufan’s From Winds series, painted in the first year the artist embarked on his enlivening Winds era. In the late 1970s, Lee Ufan experienced a four-year political exile from his country during which he was placed under close surveillance by the Korean Central intelligence Agency in the late 1970s. Following his release, the artist moved to Kamakura, Japan and developed a new painting approach that prominently disrupted the strict regimentation of his earlier From Line and From Point series. Abandoning his rigorously clinical serialisations, Lee’s brushstrokes became progressively free flowing and multi-directional, exhibiting a burgeoning dynamism and dexterous calligraphic touch. Lee titled these new series From Winds (1982-1986) and With Winds (1987-1991), with ‘wind’ referring to an enlightened acceptance and heightened receptivity of the other. The artist once said: “when I passively accept external winds, an even greater world is opened” (Lee Ufan, Exh. Cat., Fondazione Mudima, Milano, 1994, p. 26).
Hailing from the beginning of the series, From Winds is an important work embodying Lee’s transitional phase into controlled yet organic intuitive spontaneity. While the composition is still regular, retaining somewhat of a system or structure, Lee’s regulated brushwork is sensitively balanced with gentle rhythms, with each mark representing an unpremeditated response to the preceding mark or marks. The artist has compared this procedure to a game of go: “Regulating my breath and feeling a rhythm in my body, I bring my brush down at a certain place on the canvas. After this I naturally want to move the brush to another place in response to the first mark. Then, inevitably, a different place calls to the brush. Like adding stones to the board in a game of go, a tension-filled situation is gradually created” (cited in Ibid, p. 142). Through a continuous interrogation of breath, the artist explores the notion of infinity; in his words, “My works are pictorial means to open a channel to the infinite. Through the reiteration of an idea in From Point and From Line, and the situational development of exchanges occurring between place and action in From Winds, I explore the motif of infinity” (cited in Lee Ufan, Exh. Cat. Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, 1991, n.p.).
Lee Ufan continued to develop his Winds aesthetic over the course of the decade. In 1989, he declared: “How open the world, how suggestive […]! I want to enlarge and deepen the exchange with the exciting and stimulating outside world instead of soliloquizing and showing obedience to the dictatorship of expression” (Lee Ufan: With Winds – Bilder 1986-88/Paintings 1986-88, Exh. Cat., Galerie M. Bochum, Germany, 1989, p. 4). Silke von Berswordt-Wallrabe observes that although Lee opens himself up to external forces of nature, signalling a willingness to work in a less preconceived, cerebral way, “unlike the Surrealists with their (semi-)automatic practices, and unlike the Action painters, he relinquishes rational control not in order to give free rein to personal expression, but in order to make his painting receptive towards factors outside his own subjectivity” (Lee Ufan: Encounters with the Other, 2007, p. 137). Such a philosophical and aesthetic emancipation paved the way for Lee’s subsequent Correspondence series, whose return to austere brushwork displayed ever-heightening internal and external resonance.
Lee’s epochal Winds decade marked an era in which the distinguished artist-cum-philosopher gained indisputable international prominence. Numerous important museum exhibitions featured Lee’s works, including Japon des avant-gardes 1910-1970 at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris in 1986, which coincided with a display of Lee’s watercolors and drawings in the museum’s permanent collection galleries. In 1988, Lee’s works featured in Monoha: La scuola delle cose at the Museo Laboratorio di Arte Contemporanea in Rome, whose catalogue published the first Italian translation of Lee’s seminal essay "In Search of Encounter". In the same year Lee held acclaimed solo exhibitions across Japan and Europe; most notably, the catalogue for Ex Oriente at Milan’s Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea included a laudatory essay by eminent French critic Pierre Restany. Also in 1988, Lee, whose own scholarly writings are grounded in transnational philosophical inquiries including that of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Michel Foucault, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Martin Heidegger, etc., published an essay collection entitled Toki no furue ("The Trembling of Time").