What Makes a Monochrome Painting Good
Property of an Important Asian Collector
From the Catalogue:
"Anyone can draw lines, but my lines are the endemic phenomenon which takes place only in me. I feel and reciprocate the resistance of the bouncy canvas, then I feel replete with an impulsive sensation. In this way I keep being gravitated into the canvas. It is similar to cultivating the religious spirit[…]. I started from where there was no form, or no image – where it was impossible to express."
A vanguard of Korean modernism, Park Seo-bo is considered a founding father of the Dansaekhwa group, a post-war Korean avant-garde movement that was principally focused on monochromatic execution. Born in 1931, in Yechon, Korea, Park’s oeuvre may be divided into three distinct periods: the Primordialis series, the Hereditarius series, and the Écriture series, which began in 1967 and has been a ubiquitous feature of the artist’s body of works until present day.
Musog (‘Shamanism’) (Lot 7), painted in 1967 is an extremely rare example from the artist’s Hereditarius series, and is the only work from this body of works to have ever come to auction. The present lot predates Hereditarius 1-68, currently in the Collection of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Korea, and is an exceptionally rare glimpse into Park’s early painterly practice.
Beginning this series in the late 1960s, Hereditarius lasted for a mere half decade before the artist began his signature Écriture works. The Hereditarius pieces showcase the artist’s early experimentation with new forms, and were founded upon the abstract concept of portraying an object’s 'shadow' without depicting an object itself. The colour palette of Musog typifies Park’s works from the same time period, and is referred to as ‘dancheong’ (traditional multicolours) or ‘saekdong’ (colours of the rainbow). Apart from drawing from tradition, Musog’s colours also stem from its titular Shamanist roots, where mudang or baksu (priestesses or priests) don colourful garments during religious rites or ceremonies. Central to the ethnic Korean culture, Korean Shamanism, or Muism, believes in Haneullim or Hwanin (‘a source of all being’), and deities of nature, considered the highest and most supreme god. It is thus perhaps fitting that the centre of Musog glows with a brilliant, pearlescent white.
Placed against a more global artistic discourse of modernism, at first glance, Musog is analogous to Park’s Western counterparts, namely Colour Field paintings, which typically consisted of single or dual flat colours. Born of an attempt to create a modern artistic practice, Colour Field painting developed from the 1940s to beyond the 1960s, and initially sought to engage with the primeval emotions inherent to ancient myths, rather than rely on symbology in painting. Eventually, Colour Field painters eschewed all emotional, personal, mythical or religious associations in their works.
In stark contrast to this, Musog, or indeed Dansaekhwa itself, does not eliminate symbology or myth, nor indeed does it relinquish the artist’s personal attachment to a work. As with the works of many Asian Modernists and Dansaekhwa artists, Musog is an intensely personal work steeped in the artist’s native Korean culture, and though it is a flattened depiction of colour itself, it is not void of character and history. Park’s Musog is thus an extension of the artist’s earlier self.
In the early 1980s, a decisive change occurred in Park’s oeuvre. Spurred by his discovery of traditional Korean paper, ‘Hanji’, the use of this new material soon led the artist to completely transform his mode of creation. When taken alongside the Écriture series’ title, meaning ‘Writing’ in French, Hanji is a befitting medium. The artist’s earlier works from the same series featured repetitive pencil strokes weaved onto the canvas, but perhaps his transition to Hanji—each piece painstakingly and meticulously applied to the canvas by the artist—best captures the heavily gestural and laborious execution encapsulated in Park’s methodology. As a result, the long weaves and lines found in the artist’s initial Écriture pieces gradually morph into the short, repeated lines of the later works, typified in the present Écriture No. 960406 (Lot 6). Drawn on small, uniform strips of Hanji, the paper responds physically to the pressure of the artist’s pencil, and is repeatedly incised into the painting’s monochrome surface, leaving traces in the material itself and forming the overall surface structure of the work. In order to attain ‘pure emptiness’, Park Seo-bo had repeatedly attempted to create these ‘non-image’, ‘ non-expressive’, and ‘non-purpose’ driven works, of which Écriture No. 960406 is a bold example.
At the age of 80, Park Seo-bo was awarded the Silver Crown Cultural Medal in Korea in 2011. His works have been exhibited internationally, including at the 2015 edition of the Venice Biennale, Samsung Museum of Art and the Kunsthalle, Vienna. Selected pieces from his oeuvre are included in the prestigious collections of the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Guggenheim Museum, M+, Hong Kong, The National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, attesting to his high calibre as an artist, his eminence, and immense artistic importance.
—Courtesy of Phillips
Signature: signed, titled, inscribed and dated 'Park, Seo-Bo [in English and Hanja] Ecriture No.960406 [in English and Hanja] Seoul 1996' on the reverse
Private Collection, Korea
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Korean, b. 1931
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