Two Artists Re-Imagine Ink-and-Brush Drawing

In contemporary approaches to traditional calligraphic ink-and-brush drawings, artists Lee Jung Woong and Hong Zhu An synthesize Western abstraction and Asian inscription and poetry. Though they share an interest in examining the formal underpinnings and technical craftsmanship of this uniquely global approach to art-making, each artist’s method is singular, emphasizing different facets of these traditions.

Hong unifies the formalist approach of Western abstraction with the poetic, philosophical interest of Asian ink drawing, yielding expressive, textural acrylic and ink paintings-on-paper with delicate illumination. He uses staining and scumbling to create rich, dense surfaces, while some works incorporate text elements, such as in Autumn and Old Tales. In them, language becomes part of the geologic strata of the image, as much as his painterly marks. Hong’s work is inspired by nature, evident in both their titles and imagery. Although nominally abstract, the paintings refer to rocks, trees, clouds, and mud. These elements are reinforced by names such as Ice Lake and Whispering Moon. Other titles are as ineffable as Hong’s mark-making, referring to virtues like serenity and balance.

In his “Brush” series, Lee expands on what the famous art critic Harold Rosenberg dubbed Action Painting, studying the splashy, vibrant marks made with extra large sumi-e ink brushes. Working from models he creates in his studio—of these brushes and their splattery marks—Lee recreates the images, using oil paint on fine Korean paper in an exquisite, photorealist style. In works such as Brush 1 and Brush 2 (both 2013), he is meticulous, capturing the delicate bleed of ink soaked into paper, its spray across the surface, and the tilt and shadow of his brush. He aims to encapsulate ink drawing’s subtlety, vigor, its simultaneous formal excess and restraint. Similar to artists like Franz Kline and Jackson Pollock, or the Japanese artist Kazuo Shiraga, the paintings celebrate a bodily interaction with creation. But he also works to complicate that relationship with his careful re-rendering, using exceptional technical skill to hide his hand, while also exploring its direct connection to the artist’s medium.

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