The forgotten abstractions of Choi Wook-kyung

Tuesday Night Painting #24

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Hello painters, 

This week I'm going to share with you two artists from different generations who I feel share an approach in their art-making. But before I do, I want to let you know about a few developments here with
~*~ Tuesday Night Painting ~*~

Next week, instead of sending out our 25th installment, I'm taking a break to go on a mighty long road trip. But don't worry, our programming will resume the following week on Tuesday September 15th. 

I also want to let you know about some classes that I'm offering under the TNP banner. I'll be taking some of the advice I've written about in this newsletter and condensing it into 4-, 8-, and 10-week long classes. (If it's a 10 week long class, does that count as condensing? You'll have to wait and see)

If you're interested in the topics of color mixing and color experimentation, learning how to do digital paintings on your computer or iPad, painting abstractly from the landscape, or even Impressionism, then stay tuned. I will be including a list of classes in upcoming newsletters, with the intention of beginning them in October.

Choi Wook-Kyung
Untitled, 1966. Acrylic on panel mounted on canvas. 16 1/2 x 22 3/4 in
Choi Wook-Kyung's journey as an artist can be compared to some of the other artists we've covered in this newsletter. Issue #21 talked about the Australian Sydney Ball's time spent in the US and how he imported some of the ideas of abstract expressionism back to his homeland. Likewise with Choi, she spent her formative artistic years in the US in the 60s and 70s, figuring out how her painting fit into and was motivated by the American cultural and social dynamic.

Choi moved to the US in 1966 and embraced the bold colors and dramatic gestures that typified the abstract expressionist scene. This stood in great contrast to the style of abstract art that was extremely popular in Korea at the time: 
Dansaekhwa. This style, meaning "monochrome painting", emerged in the 1970s in Korea when the country was still under military dictatorship.
Yun Hyong-keun, “Umber-Blue” (1978), oil on linen, 25 13/16 x 31 7/8 in.
The monochrome paintings of the Dansaekhwa group were intended as a challenge to the artistic and cultural norms that many Koreans were accustomed to. One of the artists leading this monochromatic abstract revolution, Yun Hyong-keun, stated his motivations for working in this way: 

"I have no idea as to what I should paint, and at which point I should stop painting. There, in the midst of such uncertainty, I just paint. I don’t have a goal in mind. I want to paint that something which is nothing, that will inspire me endlessly to go on.”
Choi Wook-Kyung
Untitled, c.1960-1979, Oil on canvas. 40 x 54 in
Both the Dansaekhwa group and Choi were well known in Korea during the 70s, but interest in Choi seems to have been flagging until recent years. A gallery show in 2016 revisited some of her work and tried to expand our understanding of how Choi expanded the scope of Korean art.

The Dansaekhwa group, the abstract minimalists, were opposed in Korea by the Minjung artists, who strove to reject Western influences and wanted to base their art in tradition and Korean history. Where Choi fits between these two poles is the question without an answer that may have led to her work being neglected by historians looking for categories and genres and larger movements.

Choi Wook-Kyung
Untitled, c.1960-1979, Oil on canvas. 24 x 36 in

Choi Wook-Kyung
Untitled, c.1960-1979, Oil on canvas. 23 x 23 in
Choi's work is active and emotive, again in strong contrast to the minimal, and popular, Dansaekhwa artists. The turmoil found in her works more closely aligns with the social upheaval of the 60s and 70s present in both the US and in her home country. In some of her pieces, Choi stenciled words like "PEACE" or "FATE" or "GLORY" -- placing them down onto the canvas, hoping to summon them into existence.

However, I agree with the author of this Frieze piece that these word-art paintings lend themselves too easily to interpretation. In some cases, when a work of art has a social or political message, there is a flatness to it, in that it broadcasts its message to the viewer. The viewer can either assent to the message, or disagree, but in both cases there is less effort required from the viewer and therefore, potentially, less focus paid to the work.
Choi Wook-Kyung
Untitled, c.1980-1989, Acrylic on canvas. 32 x 44 in
Choi Wook-Kyung
Untitled, 1968, Acrylic on canvas. 40 x 34 in

Choi's abstract expressionist pieces, like those of her more famous contemporaries like Pollock and de Kooning, require more interpretive effort on behalf of the viewer.

Similarly, in this newsletter we've looked artists who, at least for a time, have rejected the urge to create politicized works of art like Stanley Whitney, and those who have slipped more charged messages behind the veil of abstraction.

When and if an artist chooses to respond to the political events of their day is obviously up to them and what they feel is being asked of them. This blogpost/essay by Penkiln Burn (alter ego of the artist Bill Drummond) asks the question, What is your job? What is my job? And what are the ways in which art can be activism, and what does it mean when art is just posing as activism?

To me it is clear that Choi struggled with this question in regards to her own work. Her pieces incorporating text are evidence of that. But her wordless canvases also contain a restlessness and hints of struggle.

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Alison Rash
Take a Look Around, 2020, Flashe/acrylic on Yupo mounted on panel, 26" x 20"
Considering the formal elements of Choi's work, I came across the work of Alison Rash via the excellent collection of work on Davis Editions.

In the loose gestural work of Rash I saw comparisons to be made with Choi's work. There are passages in these Rash paintings that indicate to me an aggressive hand on the brush, pushing and scraping away the paint in some cases to reveal the Yupo paper underneath. There are also scribbly Sharpie marker looking lines, as if the artist wants to edit or censor or black out certain passages of her work. And yet, there is a softer gentleness imparted by the liquidity of the watercolor. It's the contrast between these kinds of mark making that drew me to the work.
Alison Rash
Grasp - Nano, 2020, Flashe/acrylic on Yupo mounted on panel, 14" x 11"
Alison Rash
This, 2020, Flashe/acrylic on Yupo mounted on panel, 14" x 11"
The title of Rash's exhibition, viewable here, is "In-Between". Rash's artist statement discusses the "relationships between line, color, and form explore the in-between moments: in-between beginning and end, in-between sickness and health, in-between life and death."

It's this title that gives added weight to the comparison between Rash and Choi. During her unfortunately short career, Choi had to paint while trapped in an in-between state. In between her American and Korean identities, in between the artistic movements of her home country, in between the desire to express herself artistically and the desire to paint about social and political issues.

I've read about and interviewed artists who deal with this questions like this in their own work on a macro-level, but on a micro, by which I mean day to day level, I think that most artists, like Yun Hyong-keun, are looking to create the kind of work that will inspire them to go on endlessly.

View the work of Alison Rash on Artsy
Alison Rash personal artist site
View the work of Wook-Kyung Choi on Artsy
Here is your weekly reminder that this newsletter is free but not cheap. I've been spending more and more hours each week researching and writing about new artists for me and you to lovingly gaze at.
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So once again, I'll be going on a short newsletter break this week to take my long road trip. In the mean time, you can subscribe to some of my other favorite newsletters about a wide wide wide variety of topics:

Plenty of artistic motivation and inspiration: Austin Kleon's newsletter
About technology and the business side of tech: Margins by Can Duruk and Ranjan Roy
Huge variety of good new music: Sweep Frequency by Kid Pretentious
About weird things people do on the Internet: Brian Feldman's BNet

And of course I have to leave you with some tune recommendations of my own:

Vegyn - It's Nice To Be Alive
Alex G - Gretel
Egosex - Congo
Eris Drew - Trans Love Vibration
Los Naranjos - Vera Fauna

Check em out, and I'll see you next time!
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