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THE COLOR OF NATURE | MONOCHROME ART IN KOREA 2008

최종 수정일: 5월 31일

 “An inner process needs outward criteria.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

 

To borrow a term popularized by Michael Fried, a leading theorist of Modernism and Minimalism, Choi Myoung-Young is a “literalist.” Along with Lee Seung-Jio and Suh Seung-Won, Choi has for decades been one of Korea’s foremost practitioners of geometric abstraction. A member of the “April 19th” generation (student protesters who helped bring down the corrupt government of Korea’s first President, Rhee Syngman) and a leader of the ORIGIN Artists Association in the 1960’s, he has served for three decades as professor of painting at his alma mater, Hong-Ik University. As an artist, Choi is arguably the most theorectical of the group assembled in The Color of Nature, in that he has devoted his career to investigating the parameters and characteristics of the painting plane. At the same time, he presents the materials of his works at face value – their essential nature, without gimmickry.

 

Choi’s works are, in the Western tradition of Minimalism, stripped of subject matter, illusion, and pictorial space; yet it is not quite correct to categorize him as a Minimalist. Choi’s paintings may be minimal in that they contain –color and line but they are paradoxically maximal in the result. He paints a black ground on canvas, then uses a narrow roller to cover the black with white paint (or blue with black, or black with red, or white with black) in a series of single, long strips. But Choi does not cover the ground color completely.; he leaves uncovered a subtle profusion of horizontal and vertical lines of seemingly infinite number and length. What appears at first glance to be drawn on top of white ground is in fact the black ground exposed underneath the white paint.

 

According to the artist, he has “conditions,” meaning requirements or restrictions, “for making my paintings ultimately plane” –- outward criteria for this inner process. For isntance, he often sets a physical boundary on the size of his work, limiting it to the span of “center,” preferring instead to allow his technique to inhabit the whole surface, in the “allover” style characteristic of Western monochromatic painting. The result is an intricate lattice-work, partly discernible, partly submerged and hidden. In the early to mid-1980s, the ground was almost completely coverd with the top layer; the hidden ground would appear in glimpses, barely visible, as if viewed through a thick fog or cloud. In his 1986 work 13-86-105, the lines leave detectable, faint plus-and-minus signs, mathematical symbols which may be interpreted as allusions to the artist’s intellectual pursuits. In Choi’s subsequent works, the dialogue between the top and bottom layers has grown. Many of the lines have become thicker, more robust, dominating the space around them. In fact, the lines’ varying density adds a sense of depth. The horizontal-vetical lines seem to generate a push-pull tension across the surface of the paintings, rendering them alive with a vibrating energy, calling to mind an elaborate maze viewed from above. The eyes automatically search for passages from left to right or right to left, top to bottom or vice versa, adding to the intense feeling of motion, leaving the impression that they continue in all directions past the actual dimensions of the canvas – an expansive labyrinth, of which Choi has captured a portion and transferred to the canvas.

 

His palette is dominated by blacks and whites. Critic Lee Yil interprets this as Choi’s desire to “guarantee the work’s neutrality.” Black and white are certainly the colors most appropriate to his reserved stance and intellectual rigor, and they are also emblematic of his art’s ability to remain recognizably itself while testing its limits. Choi’s works are essentially about the extension of traditional painting. Using oils and acrylics on canvas or Chinese ink on Korean hanji paper, the artist makes his mark with layers of pigment. It is a truism of painting that all traditional painters enjoy working with different methods and textures. Accomplished, skilled painters such as Choi each have their own signature way of creating “body,” or built-up layers of paint, on the surface of their works. This body is a conversation between the painter and his material, and scrutinizing a painting’s body can give a viewer a perspective of a particular painter’s methods. Choi’s restrained, controlled methods result in thin, delicate surfaces which render his colors all the more refined and nuanced. In recent years, Choi has incorporated blues and reds as ground colors and in combination with black and white. He has said that he would like his paintings to reveal his “daily life and emotions,” and it is refreshing to see this infusion of primary colors into his distinguished and elegant palette.

 

In my work, I impose conditions on my painting process to help the paintings acheive their fundamental state, which is, ultimately, a flat plane. – Choi Myoung-Young

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