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Wonkun Jun : Sensitive & Sensible

2023. 3. 17 – 4. 29
Wonkun Jun

Juyeon Kang, Gallery JJ Director

“Controlling heavily diluted pigment is difficult. Only by understanding paint like a child can one handle it. Perhaps this ‘pigment’ is more sensitive than the artist’s sensibility.” – Wonkun Jun, 2023

We dwell amongst a myriad of colors. If the object is not separate from the human sense, then color is also not an objective entity that exists regardless of it. For Wonkun Jun, color always accompanies emotion.

Gallery JJ is pleased to present Wonkun Jun: sensitive & sensible, a solo exhibition by Wonkun Jun, who lives and works in Düsseldorf, Germany, and explores painting through sensuous color-space. In a subdued formal language through color, he intends to convey the emotions he encounters. Along with the new off-white monochrome paintings, the exhibition includes recent monochromes in white and various hues, and a series of grids and circles in different canvas sizes. The works on view create a serene yet dynamic aura with a harmonious interplay of color and size. Through his most representative works, the exhibition highlights the originality of his artistic world based on its unique formal beauty, honed over two decades, and anticipates the painterly effect of mutually permeating colors and their exquisite variations.

Wonkun Jun, Untitled, 2022-2023, Acrylic on canvas, 70 x 55cm

Jun’s art seems to distill life into paintings that resonate with color. To do so, he seeks undisclosed colors on the canvas. His work, known as color-field or monochrome abstract paintings, offers a unique aura that stems from his distinct technique in which multiple layers of hues are built and wiped out repeatedly. Through this multilayering method, the picture plane exhibits thick materiality, yet spatial depth lies beneath its translucent surface where the color-images emerge ambiguously buoyant in the void. The remaining colors and their boundaries from controlled pigment application and removal subtly permeate one another, creating a blurred effect. Such occurrences between the picture plane and the eye create a sense that distant and imminent spacetime can exist concurrently. His works often elicit an emotional response in the viewer, embracing warmth amid moderation, differentiating them from cold and formulaic minimalists. He believes in the comforting and healing power of art and offers it as an aesthetic experience.

Hence, his abstract work contains both Eastern and Western characteristics with human traces and sensibilities accompanied by an enduring performance of repetition and accumulation while utilizing formal rationality with dots, lines, and planes, the most fundamental plastic elements, as constituents. Jun studied at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf and pursued a master’s degree under Helmut Federle in 2001. He is still based in Düsseldorf and exhibits in Europe and worldwide, well received by museums and private collectors at home and abroad, including Imi Knoebel, a renowned abstract painter who has also collected his work. Jun’s work unfolds into monochrome paintings and geometric forms such as grids, lines, squares, and circles while orchestrating various colors on the picture plane. He seeks confluence with the inner world through color, in which his exhaustive search for harmony and structure among new colors embodies such desire. It inspires curiosity about how his artistic practice appeals to our inherent aesthetic sense and stimulates the mind toward imagination.

The off-white monochrome painting that makes its first appearance in an exhibition rather speaks less as if the white monochrome, the outset and most representative of his repertoire, had returned after his phase with geometric forms.

Wonkun Jun, Untitled, 2022-2023, Acrylic on canvas, 70 x 55cm

“The more breath saved, the more condensed colors are needed. Ultimately the canvas does not need verbosity, I realize.” – Artist’s Note

Compared with previous color field painters, such as Yves Klein and Mark Rothko, regarding the relation between color and the abstract realm of monochrome in painting, Jun’s work utilizes a method of maximizing the effect at the boundaries where colors overlap through a thick surface. While he pushes the demarcation to the canvas edges in monochrome works, a blurred boundary effect infiltrates the surface through check patterns or color circles, with light scattering and emitting a halo along their perimeters. As Goethe noted, colors emerge through the interplay between light and darkness, and at the boundary, they become another color that creates harmony. This results in a vertical space of color instead of the planar one, which resonates with its depth from the surface.

Wonkun Jun, Untitled, 2022-2023, Acrylic on canvas, 70 x 55cm

Such a working method entails a sensitive contest between sensibility and rationality, material and mind, and pigment, body, and the environment. Jun delved into his way of expressing emotions in response to Western minimalism that he found rather cold and heterogeneous when he began black-and-white abstract work during his early study abroad. It was an inevitable task for a foreign artist to alleviate the confusion arising from the gap between Eastern and Western thinking. He removed expressive gestures and derived in-depth moderation and concentration. Henceforth, his work operates on ‘less is more’ for maximum outcomes, working with the most basic forms and four colors – red, yellow, blue, and green. After applying heavily diluted acrylic paint on the canvas, he repeatedly wipes it out before it dries. The process continues multiple times to stack many thin colored layers. The subtle and unusual colors we see on the surface are the result of the overlapping hues from the interior; the traces from wiping pigments in the lower strata that ascend consecutively and infiltrate one another.

His canvas is dense due to the accumulated layers, but those hues underneath shining through the surface indicate its transparency and depth where forms are built and eroded. In this sense, Jun approaches painting like archaeology, according to Dr. Frank Laukötter. This multi-layered structure can be seen from the perspective of Korean aesthetics; for example, the traditional aesthetic sense in layering and temperance manifested by the inner light and depth, as evident in thin layers of hanbok, giwa tiling, lacquer, and glazed ceramics, and fine texture of hanji and restrained decoration.

Wonkun Jun, Untitled, 2022-2023, Acrylic on canvas, 40 x 35cm

The cumulative method and the resonating colors derived from it have led to a sort of classic impression that subtly comes across in his work, especially in the recent off-white paintings. This impression stems from his interest in culture, history, and archaeology, as past experiences always reconnect to the present and inspire him. For example, his immersion and mindfulness of the materials and colors in historical buildings, the hint of blue glaze in traditional Korean ceramics, and the impression of jade-green in the Southeast Asian seas are all summoned on the canvas by his tonal acuity. It is not unrelated that his early grayscale monochrome abstract paintings originate from his interest in faded black-and-white photography.

In retrospect, the artistic practice of conveying impressions solely through primary elements in color and form has already passed a century since Kandinsky. The artist’s perspective, emotions, and ideas determine the character of work in these abstract types. Jun’s artistic world lies in this pictorial tradition, and his modus operandi with simplicity and stillness, moderation and concentration, and the accumulation of time aligns with his attitude toward life. Composure subdues agitation and cacophony. Rather than representing life or nature, his interest lies in expressing the inner world, such as memory, intuition, instinct, desire, and emotion, as an individual who has lived across the East and the West. Color is a language that represents memories and senses and a medium for discovering a new self, with paintings reflecting his way of life. It may be his way of drawing communication with the audience through a moderate and poetic beauty, perhaps not too far from reality.

Wonkun Jun, Untitled, 2022-2023, Acrylic on canvas, 40 x 35cm

The multitude of colors that form an exquisite harmony on the canvas are newly emerged ones during the long process of applying and wiping away the four colors only. The pigments that trickled down to the sides of the canvas remain as traces of such actions. The entire process is thoroughly planned and controlled but is also subject to the forces of nature, such as temperature, humidity, and light, which affect the drying time and subsequent effects on pigments. For instance, faster drying time in summer leaves nothing to wipe off. In addition to the materiality and surroundings of the paint, the force on the wrist while holding the brush or wiping the surface and even the slight change in body temperature can trigger minute differences in his work. Understanding and controlling the properties of paint, the colors that remain as traces after a difficult balancing with intellectual plastic elements, and many emotional states they evoke, are sensitive but not excessive.

The faint space where colors are constantly removed by the artist’s hand is both an absence and presence that imbues life into the work, creating colors, shapes, feelings, and senses. The mode of boundary-blur, the composition of all-over, and the naming of all works ‘Untitled’ gives the audience space to openly appreciate, ponder, and imagine. The exhibition conveys the energy and calm resonance of painterly hues, that is, art as a sensorial and spiritual fruit transmitted by color. The boundaries of colors dissolve and intermingle, creating a boundless world that is sensitive and sensible.

Wonkun Jun, Untitled, 2023, Acrylic on paper, 30 x 21cm

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