He honed the mountains into hard-edged wonders

Tuesday Night Painting #38

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Hello painters,

We're approaching the halfway point in December, and to me, time seems to be accelerating at an alarming rate. With any luck, by tomorrow it'll be the summer and we'll all have been inoculated for a couple of weeks already. But just in case that doesn't happen, here's another batch of images and links for you to explore.

Two weeks ago, I mentioned that the Korean artist Yoo Youngkuk was the subject of a brand new monograph by the arts publisher Rizzoli. I wanted to take a little bit more time with that artist and take a slightly closer look at his images and his backstory. It's a fascinating one that I've gleaned largely from this ArtNews and supplemented with other gallery and museum links. You can also see a solid collection of this artist's work at this link.

Read on for a glimpse into Yoo's life and work, plus a few extra links at the bottom of the letter.

Yoo Youngkuk is recognized as one of the earliest pioneers of Korean abstract art, but his work has not been widely exhibited outside of his home country.

In Korea, however, his work has been the focus of many shows, including this exhibition at the Korean National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in what would have been Yoo's 100th year (the artist passed away at 86 in 2002).

Before he graduated high school, Yoo left Korea, for the bustling city of Tokyo. Born and raised in an isolated, mountainous town in the eastern part of Korea, Yoo intended to work as a merchant mariner, but his lack of a high school degree made that impossible for him. He pivoted to oil painting instead, at a liberal arts school in Toyko, and from the start he showed an interest in abstract expression.
Work, 1979
Yoo left Tokyo in 1943 as the pressures of war in the Pacific made life in the capital too difficult. He returned to his hometown and sought work as a fisherman, placing his artistic pursuits on hold. When Japanese colonial rule of Korea ended in 1945, Yoo formed a group named New Realism, with fellow artists looking to work abstractly and geometrically.

Incredibly, and unfortunately, the outbreak of war once again ended Yoo's outpouring of creativity. The Korean War ended Yoo's work with his fellow artists, and left Yoo to try to make ends meet by selling firewood. The artist also repaired his father's old distillery and began selling batches of the Korean liquor soju.
Work, 1980
Any artist going through a rough patch should take a huge dose of solace from the remarkable life of Yoo Youngsuk. - Andrew Russeth
Having attempted once before to disrupt the prevailing artistic dynamic in Korea (and being disrupted himself by the war), the artist tried again.

Yoo wanted to take the avant-garde, surrealist, and western themes he learned of during his art school days in Tokyo, and blend them together into a style of painting that was specifically Korean.

His careful study of abstraction, working with simple elements like line, shape, color, and form, led to many depictions of the Korean landscape.

There are many Yoo compositions that I find simple but striking, and watching them transform over the years is equally fascinating. (See his works sorted chronologically here) The artist refined his approach as he grew older, but landscapes and mountains remain a constant.

One compositional approach I can't get enough of is the peak behind a peak. There are several Yoo canvases that use this technique, placing one triangle in the foreground and another back behind it.

It gives me the impression that each mountaintop you climb, there is another one just coming into view. Yoo approached painting in the same way George Mallory approached climbing. Why did he paint it? Because it's there.
In one way or another, Yoo was always heading back home to the mountains in the east. So many of his canvases show the peaks of mountaintops, they must have loomed large in his mind's eye.

Once again, you can read this excellent article in ArtNews about Yoo. For more images and more text, you can visit his exhibit at Kukje Gallery, his national museum of Korea exhibit, and this collection of images at Google Arts.
Two quick links to leave you with:

First, read about this ancient rock art discovered in deep in the Amazon. The paintings are located in a remote part of Colombia, and some of the work is so high up on cliff walls that they can only be accessed by drone. I wonder how the ancients managed to build their drones out of straw and sticks.

Second, a good article that can be applied to our painting practice, about how you can beat procrastination by using tactics developed by the Stoic philosophers. Those guys really knew what they were about.
And here is your weekly reminder that this newsletter is free but not cheapI'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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If you appreciate this newsletter, send me a few dollars by clicking on the button above. 
And one last sneaky link, to tell you about my online Etsy store, where I'm selling some of the paintings I've made this year. You could find a really nice Christmas (or Hanukkah) present for a special someone. Check out my store here.

Finally, painters, it's been a pleasure writing to you and reading your responses throughout this year. This newsletter began back in March when things were just beginning to shut down but has been going strong since then.

I can promise you that this newsletter will outlast COVID at the very least. Beyond that, who knows! I'll be taking some time off from writing for the next two weeks, but Tuesday Night Painting will be back in 2021 with a new look and some new classes to offer. Until then.

And now, a few tunes:

Ponta de Areia - Wayne Shorter
Fujiyama - Dave Brubeck
Nardis - Bill Evans Trio
In a Sentimental Mood - Duke Ellington & John Coltrane

RIP Charley Pride

See you next time, and happy painting.
( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
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