In a decade-spanning exhibition at Upper East Side’s Almine Rech Gallery, Kim Tschang-Yeul exhibits a body of water drop paintings that have become something of a calling card for the Korean artist. Pursuing the singular idea of depicting water drops in ever-shifting narratives, the artist has built an elaborate series of works in this form over the past few decades, exhibiting his meticulously-illustrated oil on canvas compositions to a broad audience in Europe, Asia, and America. The exhibition emphasizes the artist’s unending quest to expand this signature style to implement political, personal or artistic narratives into simple, yet poetic presence of oozing water. Using the drop’s magnifying ability and translucent ethereality in diverse formats, Kim merges techniques of hyperrealist painting with cues from abstraction, particularly with his direct reference to monochromatic painting.
Born in Japan-occupied North Korea in 1929, Kim travelled to the West at a young age and studied methods of combining representational techniques, particularly trompe l’eoil, with mastery of color study evident in traditional Eastern drawing. “The spirit of abstraction never left his work,” explains the artist’s son Oan Kim about his father’s early years as an abstract painter. “The water drops are realistic in their representation, but the compositions and empty backgrounds are entirely abstract, formalistic, idealistic.” In decades he spent in New York and Paris throughout the second half of the 20th century, he embraced the times’ artistic movements that influenced his Western peers, blending these trends with a sense of meditation and contemplation crucial in Asian philosophies.
His practice of Zen and research in Renaissance painting both come into play in the illustration of his water drop pieces, which requires both trained skill and a nuanced understanding of perspective and depth. “Another way to explain this is by the reference to Zen stories that Kim likes to evoke,” his son says. “Zen kōans are known to be somewhat absurd tales and have no rational meaning but inspire something in the disciple in the performative act of telling them and reflecting upon them.”
The presentation at Almine Rech includes a vast number of concepts and styles Kim has utilized to depict water drops over the course of his career, ranging from paintings on French newspapers during the ‘80s to his experiments with a Chinese calligraphy book titled The Book of 1,000 Characters in recent years as an homage to his earlier years in calligraphy. Evident in each step of his career is the ability to infuse social, political or personal accents to an image as mute and organic as a water drop. Letting the image’s timelessness and placeless familiarity speak as a meditative force, Kim asks questions about history, remembrance, existence, and perseverance in the form of a transient drop.
Kim Tschang-Yeul is at Almine Rech Gallery Through April 14th, 2018.
— O.C. Yerebakan
Photo credit: Matt Kroening – All images Courtesy of the Artist and Almine Rech Gallery © Kim Tschang Yeul
Almine Rech Gallery [Exhibition Page]