Flowers Morph Into Celestial Bodies in Yun-Hee Toh’s Take on Monochrome Painting

Artsy Editorial
Jul 2, 2015 10:06PM

“Night Blossom,” an exhibition now on view at Gallery Hyundai in Seoul, presents works of painter Yun-Hee Toh. While Toh’s formative years as an artist coincided with the prevailing styles of the Dansaekhwa school and Minjung Art in Korea, she pursued her own unique approach to abstract painting. 

Toh’s exhibition is comprised of over 20 recent oil paintings on canvas, each an abstract field of color defined loosely by fluffed blooms resembling chrysanthemums. The colors modulate around a small palette—primarily warm tones—but are not used to create representational images. Rather, like the Abstract Expressionists, Toh conjures moods, feelings, and sensations. In one large untitled painting, the paint resembles flowers leaning over the viewer, forming an expanding cloud, as well as referencing the material—paint building and dissolving on the canvas’s surface. In another untitled work, Pointillist-like flecks burst through the predominant gray-green areas of the composition. Throughout her body of work, Toh has explored the ways in which small marks can accrete into full artworks, a process that engages, according to the artist, “beauty of plant life on a molecular level.”

When seen together, three individual untitled yellow paintings can be read as a suite that tracks the development of a composition, or perhaps an amoeba or a plant over time. In the first, somewhat distinct yellow-white blooms emerge from a cool blue background, spreading and intensifying in the second as if a chemical reaction was quickening. In the third, the color runs into overdrive, covering the canvas and deepening with rich oranges and reds.

In many works, Toh’s interest in macroscopic scientific phenomena can also be detected. In Untitled (2014) we see the colors of NASA’s Hubble space images, and forms that resemble clouds of interstellar dust, nebulae, and galaxies. The composition is expansive, towering over the viewer and reaching to all edges of the canvas. Toh shows how complex contemporary color field painting can be—and how a master can develop traditional disciplines into new and surprising forms.

—Stephen Dillon

Night Blossom” is on view at Hyundai Gallery, Seoul, Jun. 12 –Jul. 12, 2015.

Discover more artists at Gallery Hyundai.

Artsy Editorial