2020.10.23 – 11.29
Gallery Hyundai is pleased to hold Kim Tschang-Yeul’s solo exhibition The Path from October 23rd until November 29th. Displaying a collection of Kim’s seminal works around the theme of ‘the path,’ this exhibition commemorates a half a century’s worth of the gallery’s history in the Korean art scene. A vanguard for the development of Korean abstract art, the gallery is honored to provide this opportunity to explore a part of Kim’s practice from a new perspective.
Kim Tschang-Yeul, a master of Korean abstract art, has explored the essence of painting via his glistening water drops and use of the text from the Chinese Thousand Character Classic, thus embedding his work with the Eastern philosophy and spirit in a delicate manner. The relationship between the gallery and the artist began in 1976 when Gallery Hyundai held Kim’s first solo show in Korea. At the time, he was actively developing his career in Paris. The initial show introduced Kim’s ‘water drop’ paintings, which had already gained acclaimed in Paris, to the domestic audience for the first time. The reception caused a sensation that permeated the Korean art world significantly enhancing his recognition and stature in Korea. From that time, Gallery Hyundai has continued to work closely with the artists via solo exhibitions and support at the institutional level. These efforts to support bore fruit both domestically and internationally. Some major accomplishments include solo exhibitions at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Gwacheon (1993), Jeu de Paume, Paris (2004), and the opening of the Kim Tschang-Yeul Art Museum (Jeju-do) in 2016.
The Path Kim’s 14th solo exhibition at Gallery Hyundai and his first in seven years that celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of his artistic career. The Path concentrates on the subject of ‘text,’ which along with water drops, creates a grand vein of Kim’s artistic oeuvre. The text that appears in his works of the Recurrence series reveals as strong presence as the transparent and pure water drops glisteningly painted on the canvas. In spite of the fact that text serves as a significant aesthetic ground bridging image and text, process and form, content and concept, East and West, abstract and figurative, this part of his practice has not received the requisite well-deserved degree of attention and research. The Path suggests the morale, that mankind should strive for, by combining text carrying the profound and dignified worldview of truth and water drops symbolizing life, purity, and catharsis.
The Path will showcase approximately 30 important pieces that combine text and water drops. This meaningful collection of works includes Le Figaro (1975), the very first piece on which text met water droplets, the mid-1980s Recurrence series where abstract brushstrokes resembling the strokes of Chinese character permeated through the canvas, and the Recurrence series from late 1980s to 2010s on which the coexistence of Thousand Character Classic and water drops built harmonious tension. On each floor, this exhibition is organized around three themes: “Encounter,” “Realization and Recurrence,” and “Reflection and Expansion.”
“Encounter” on the first floor displays the works through which Kim placed water droplets upon text and attempted to destruct the image and text by introducing fundamental elements of Chinese characters. “Realization and Recurrence” on the basement narrates the active development and variations of Chinese characters introduced to his paintings. Lastly, “Reflection and Expansion” on the second floor reveals the artist’s intention of self-reflection and the expansion of his spectrum through the use of traditional materials such as hanji (Korean paper) and ink.
“When I started painting water drops, I used to work on the surfaces that shows immediate materiality, such as rough canvas, wood, and sand. However, as the picture plane grows bigger, the canvas becomes a barren field left behind when its materiality dissipates.”
– Kim Tschang-Yeul, 2003
Water droplets, light, and its reflection are significant formal elements of Kim Tschang-Yeul’s paintings. In Kim’s early work, a raw canvas or sand serves as the supporting background of the water droplets. However, to overcome the loss of its materiality caused by the enlargement of the plane, he immersed himself in exploring the background that can perfectly embrace the water droplets. Unceasingly transforming the process, technique, and sequence of art making, Kim continued various attempts to paint water droplets permeated into the canvas or the amorphous shapes surrounding them. On that account, it was only natural that the droplets settled down on newspapers. Le Figaro (1975), on which water drops are drawn on the French newspaper Le Figaro, is the first moment of union between text and water droplets. Later, text began to reappear on the canvas works. Here, the letter was destructed and the meaningless basic “stroke” was depicted.
REALIZATION AND RECURRENCE
“Chinese characters resound infinitely and unfold without end. Because they are the texts I first learned as a child, Thousand-Character Classic has always held a place in my heart and is able to support my water drops as their companion.”
– Kim Tschang-Yeul, 1998
As the Recurrence series began, the Thousand-Character Classic was introduced to Kim’s work. Kim Tschang-Yeul stated that he thumbs back his memories of learning the Thousand-Character Classic from his grandfather in his childhood, and brought it as a part of his practice. It shows that the artist’s will to pursue a life that follows the flow of nature by regaining the mind of his youth. Nevertheless, the emergence of Chinese characters means much more than just a return to the past given that the first text appeared in his painting was an alphabet in the French newspaper not Chinese character.
The Thousand-Character Classic has commonly been understood as the one thousand elementary Chinese characters for beginners. However, the Thousand-Character Classic is an ancient collection of 125 poems, each of two stanzas and four letters, containing the ways of the natural universe and human life, centering on the key concepts of Eastern philosophy. Interpreted as “the sky and earth are black and yellow; the universe is wide and rough,” the first two phrases unveil the structural principles that the world we inhabit is consisted of time and space and convey the infinite universe from an Eastern viewpoint. That is, the combination of water drops and texts on the canvas establishes Kim Tschang-Yeul’s unique art world.
REFLECTION AND EXPANSION
“The act of painting water drops is to dissolve all things within the water drops, to be returned to a transparent state of ‘nothingness.’ By returning anger, anxiety, fear, and everything else to ‘emptiness,’ we experience peace and contentment. While some seek the enhancement of the ‘ego,’ I aim toward the extinction of the ego and look for the method of expressing it.”
– Kim Tschang-Yeul, 1988
With the arrival of texts, the use of traditional materials such as hanji (Korean paper) and ink has emerged. Kim Tschang-Yeul pursued the “Tao” of the East, adopting traditional materials. Using ink and paint on large hanji paper, he crossed light gray and ink lines one upon another, in developing his art worlds where layers of the same color covered the canvas like a net. Through such attempts, Kim achieved the unity of the Eastern formative space in the combination of water droplets and Chinese characters. In this case, the Thousand-Character Classic is creating an ideal world beyond the texts as a tool to reveal the truth. He invites the viewer to the truth beyond the text through the relationship of water droplets and the Thousand-Character Classic.
The manner that Kim adopts in the Recurrence series, that is, densely filling out the background of traditional Korean paper with text, realizes the process of relinquishing himself into a state free of all ideas. As if practicing calligraphy as a beginner, Kim completely filled the background by writing the Thousand-Character Classic or Tao Te Ching in countless layers, and placed water droplets on it. The repeated strokes of calligraphy are a process of training to vacate himself and of emptying and neutralizing into a state of unconsciousness through repetitive acts.
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