South-Korean artist Park Seo-Bo’s latest solo show at White Cube Mason’s Yard has just opened in London; ZIGZAG: Ecriture 1983-1992 and it divulges a series of paintings that bring the heart of the the Dansaekhwa movement to London.
Also pronounced ‘Tansaekhwa,’ which means ‘monochrome painting’ in Korean, Dansaekhwa emerged from a group of artists in Korea in the 1970’s and is often represented by predominantly non-figurative works in minimal colour palettes. Korean artist Lee Ufan was the protagonist of the movement after he relocated to Tokyo in 1956, and in 1975 he held a group show at Tokyo Gallery that exhibited works by Park Seo-Bo, Suh Seung-Won, Heu Hwang, Kwon Young-Woo and Lee Dong Youb. These works, which shared a neutral colour scheme of predominantly whites, would later become known as ‘Dansaekhwa', or ‘Tansaekhwa' and with that, an internationally recognised ‘face’ of Korean and Asian contemporary art was born.
An older member of this movement, Seo-Bo was born in 1931, and began his ‘Ecriture’ series almost fifty years ago in the late 1960’s. After graduating from Hong-Ik University, Seoul, in 1954, Seo-Bo intensely studied Korean brush painting during the Korean War, which he cites as instigating his knowledge of indigenous types of paper and it’s connection to parts of native domestic life.
The Ecriture works from 1983-1992 present mixed media works with Korean Hanji paper on canvas in neutral shades of browns, greens, taupe, whites tinged with an ice blue, greys and blacks. Seo-Bo delicately soaks each piece of the hanji paper with a carefully prepared paint mixture and applies the pigment to the canvas while still wet. Drawing on Western abstract painting as well as Korean brush painting and calligraphy, Seo-Bo then incises lines and repetitive shapes into the surface to create works that are heavily textured and somewhat both mentally and physically tangible.
Walking leisurely around the pure space of the White Cube gallery, Seo-Bo’s ZIGZAG series creates an innate calm (even amidst the bustling chatting crowds drawn to view the works on the opening evening).
The peacefulness and clean neutrality of the works recalls the very origins of Korean calligraphy in Taoist and Buddhist philosophy, connecting the viewer to the works and inviting an inner spiritual reflection. Standing close to the works, or slightly to the side in order to observe the relief quality of their surface, it is possible to almost feel their creation process through the thickly textured canvases. The thought of how the dense, wet hanji feels as the bamboo is pressed in to its pulpy surface, manipulating it in to pattern, isn't hard to conjure.
The global art market’s growing interest in Korean art is profound due to its intrinsic visual beauty and philosophically profound concepts – qualities that are appealing not only for dealers, but hit every inexplicable note in the attempt to define the indefinable; ‘good, contemporary art.’
By Holland Drury
Park Seo-Bo’s ZIGZAG: Ecriture 1983-1992, 20 January – 11 March, White Cube Mason’s Yard, London.