Pearl Lam Galleries is pleased to announce its first solo exhibition by post-war Korean artist Kim Tschang-Yeul (b. 1929, Maengsan, Korea) at the Pedder Building. Kim is regarded as one of the most influential figures in Korea’s modern art history and is renowned for his “waterdrop” paintings. The exhibition will feature pieces from this signature series from the 1970s through to the present, which reflect his personal experiences, such as poverty, love, wars, and pain. Through the continued act of painting water drops, Kim is able to erase traumatic memories of the tragedy of the Korean War (1950–53).
The language Kim Tschang-Yeul uses in his “water drop” paintings combines the discourse of photorealism and abstract expressionism, placing the paintings in an ambiguous space between abstraction and reality. For Kim, water is the origin of all things, highlighting that nothing in our universe would exist without water. Through exploring water as an independent subject, Kim has brought the origin theory of Thales, the father of Western philosophy, to mind.
Many of his works from the early 1970s feature water drops individually. In these pieces, Kim does not employ water as a subject itself but shows water drops seeping out of a wall or sitting alone. An artificial impression is given and he begins to visualise the quality of existence. By 1972, his paintings show a conceptual shift and water is no longer alone on his canvas. The water drops radically increase in size and quantity and bring forth a surreal impression. He also refines the composition through the removal of colour in his painting process.
The transition into the 1980s shows Kim beginning to explore textures in his water drops. He uses oil paint, applied to the back of a wet canvas. Recurrence, the series he developed in this period, shows frames full of calligraphic texts from Thousand Character Classic or deconstructed strokes of Chinese letters, all used to construct the water drops. Kim continues to work on this series to this day. He has taken the works a step further by placing Xuan sheet paper and rice paper on the canvas first before writing on the paper with ink and composing water drops, which reflects Kim’s childhood experiences of practicing reading and writing and also the art tradition he inhabits.
In the 1990s, the artist started to experiment with the use of new techniques and media, such as painting water drops on wooden boards and a range of other materials. Kim also began to create sculptures with rock, iron, and bronze, and he used glass for water drops in his installations. Kim believes that water and water drops exist anywhere around us, including in space and time, but are also vulnerable and exposed to an infinite emptiness. Over the decades we see the water drops become a path through which Kim searches for an infinite revelation.