Since the early 1970s, Kim Tschang Yeul religiously yet rigorously experimented in depicting water drops, striving to perfect its painterly depiction and to comprehend its wisdom. Neutral yet constantly in flux, his paintings are interweaved with layers of binary code that in overall harmony balances an intellectual magnificence in tandem with the thought provoking schism.
Kim belonged to the first generation to study in art colleges that established after the Korean War. Owing to the highly sensitive postwar social atmosphere, a group of artist created a new movement of Korean Informel to advocate their intuitive response in expressive rebellion against authority and institutional conservatism; the Korean Informel movement, which most definitely and notably includes Kim, paved the way for new dimensions of avant-garde art for the second generations. The devastating political turmoil of the Korean War bred immense cultural spirituality which they soon quickly transmitted onto paper in creative liberation.
Kim further absorbed the different types of innovative movements in his long studies in New York and Europe, managing to achieve admiration from notable prominent art figures including Salvador Dali and Alain Bosquet, an art critic who specialized in Surrelaism. Dali commented 'This exhibition is equal in magnificence to the railway station at Perpignan, in which he often insinuated the 'gade de Perpignan' as 'the centre of the world.' Bosquet also published an impressive commentary in the French political journal Combat, 'The waterdrops are inviting us to a sort of self-metamorphosis; 'a rare hypnotic power, one not to be forgotten.' This review undoubtedly still holds true till this day, as Kim matured together with his subject of water drops, wherein the world realized his determined sincerity and gravity towards the subjects that he chooses to examine. During Kim's stay in New York from 1960s to mid 1960s, a crucial transformation in the art circle was at place with perishing of Abstract Expressionism and advent of Pop Art. This development also acquired Kim to distinctly alter his previous style from ardent dark hued brush strokes, returning back to representational paintings. In Water drops (Lot 174), composition is woven in intricate patterns of consistent waves that trigger a certain absence of specific focal point to this oeuvre. Seemingly flat without variation in structure, the painting almost performs the appeal of a retro wallpaper of the 70s. Through planned hallucinatory patterns, it conjures the aura of intricate, unusual, geometrically organized qualities of the 'mind manifesting' Psychedelic Art. Alike in traits of brightness contrast; depth in detail and stylization; repetition of motif and morphing of objects, Kim splurged a pattern that was created by the exuberance of the mind. The flat regularity of the figuration of his subjects may create an archaic dullness of vintage wallpaper, however the exquisite composition mysteriously expands the picture plane as illumination of the numerous water drops arises from the horizon, creating a riddle between the inexplicable stain of water and the obscurely intact water drop.
The curvature of the stain is outlined by much smaller and firmly depicted droplets in overall conducting a rhythmical stream around the abstract pattern of the stain. The phenomenological depiction of a non-dissolving droplet propose a tactile illusion, presenting a seductive quality of the fluid to trigger the spectator's urge to touch and smell the dampness of the wet canvas, where the sensual intensity is immediately activated with perceptual purism that flows and awakens all nerves of our senses for a moment of transcendental empiricism.
The creative imperative of hyperrealism in depicting an immaculate illusion of water drops and stains are offset with an absurd composition that discloses the theatrical impulse of Kim to enlarge our capacity of sensory perception in order to heighten the awareness of ourselves and, or with the world. Here, the static rigidity of the tight composure of images is relaxed, distinguishable as separate entities in three-dimensional illusion, in which the picture plane starts to pulsate with life, offering viewers a momentary delusion of the bouncing vibration of the diminutive droplets. Perhaps the magnitude of the canvas is what engulfs the viewer's presence with intimacy, stimulating our very experience as grand proximity with Kim's paintings reveal his level of tenderness and vast patience in his execution, where we come to appreciate the integrity and illusion of depth as immanent on the exterior of the intellectually tidy depiction and also in the interior of the philosophically orientated articulation.
The extraordinary complexity concealed beneath the seemingly straightforward depiction of hyperrealism is yet another insightful and cunning schema of Kim in constantly conjuring contradictory elements. Faithfully criticizing the coexistence of nature and artificiality, the idea of false impression is equivalent to the first glance of realistic depiction of the water drop until the realization of the dissolvent resistant quality of it. The 'empty' splashes of the fluid stained upon the canvas and the 'filled' circular shape of the droplet mimic the empty and filled, hence symbolizing the philosophical discourse of the condition of being empty but full of Zen Buddhism. The balance of light and shadow in his painting is muted in equal amount just as the emptiness of water drops (Stain) and the fullness of the water drops is counterbalanced into uniformity, moreover, translated into a Zen dialogue. 'The reason for drawing drops of water is to dissolve everything into drops of water and return it transparently into nothingness. When we have turned anger, unease, and fear into emptiness, we can experience peace and harmony. Unlike others, who mostly wish to expand their egos, I prefer to search for a way to express my ego by aiming at its extinction.' As Kim quoted, his attraction to the weighty symbolism and physical transparency that liquid holds is exceedingly apparent in his persistency in exploring its sphere of definition.
Painting water in dogged repetitiveness did not only grant Kim his superb aptitude in technicality but has also allowed him to further his viewpoint on the world and himself in deep meditation. With the ability to transform and change shape, water posse extreme relevance to nature of beings. As the Koran cites 'We have created every living thing from water', it functions as a universal symbolism of life and origins with essential characteristics of purity, medical virtues, fertility and safety. Kim's decision in examining the subject of water is the supreme appropriation to his theoretical curiosity of the presence of the absence. The natural property of water provides exactly the presence of the absence with its liquid stain on a surface. The wet stain marks its prior presence of the water droplet, insinuating the absence of it simultaneously. This exhibits the twofold interplay of evaporation and absorption that is broadened in its tactility with the artist's choice of dry palette of brown as the backdrop material to elaborate the dampness of the liquid. The raw texture of the canvas seep through the layered color, enhancing the parched property of the plane, embedding to the contrasting moisture of the droplet; additionally, reiterating his high sensitivity towards summoning the absence of the naked base of the texture to existence by exposing its supreme materiality; corresponding ingeniously to the property of water and its transparency (absence) that reflect and refract strings of symbolism with its purity (existence).
Kim's ability to elicit stupendous state of consciousness in pictorial language is perhaps owed to his dedication to conceptual and technical precision. His admirable tenacious attempt in exerting on singular motif throughout most of his artistic career only reconfirms his self-assurance and continuing fervency in the religious and philosophical connotations that water carries along with his constant discoveries and enlightenment he encounters inside its infinite realm. His exquisite balance of two poles in lyrical coexistence expands to perpetuity, releasing an appeal of universality, which in all probability is what rewards him his respect and recognition worldwide. As an artist who exercised the many crucial disciplines such as abstraction, hyperrealism, Informel movement, pop art and minimalism, what established him as one of the pioneer of Korean contemporary art is his sharp conceptualism in existence of being and their relevance to its environment and most certainly his passion and dedication that is evident in his philosophy and technical dexterity that furthermore extends into his personal form of meditation.
KIM TSCHANG YEUL
Oil on canvas
20th Century, Paintings, canvas, oil, Korea, Republic of, Contemporary, abstract
Beijing, China, The National Museum of China, Exhibition of Kim Tschang Yeul Works, 18 May - 18 June, 2005.
ASIAN 20TH CENTURY & CONTEMPORARY ART
257.5 x 194 cm. (101 1/4 x 76 1/4 in.)
Exhibition of Kim Tschang Yeul Works, exh. cat., The National Museum of China Press, Beijing, China, 2005, p. 120. (illustrated)