Portray Towards the Tyranny of Flatness

SEOUL — On March 7, 2020, I reviewed the posthumous New York debut exhibition Lee Seung Jio: Nucleus at Tina Kim Gallery (February 20–April 4, 2022). Two weeks later, on March 22, 2020,  Mayor Invoice de Blasio ordered all non-essential companies in New York Metropolis to shut due to COVID-19. I thought of the truth that Lee’s present was closed down after I noticed Lee Seung Jio at Kukje Gallery (September 1–October 30, 2022). Lee, who died in 1990 on the age of fifty, is commonly thought of a significant determine within the Dansaekhwa (monochrome portray) motion that was central to Korean artwork between the late Sixties and late Seventies and contains not less than two generations of artists. Whereas the primary technology of Dansaekhwa artists, akin to Park Website positioning-Bo, Ha Chong-Hyun, and Kim Tschang-Yeul, have gained a global repute, Lee, who was a decade youthful, stays one of many motion’s lesser-known artists. 

What artists grouped underneath the time period Dansaekhwa have in widespread is that they lived by means of Japan’s occupation of Korea (1910-45), throughout which period Japan tried to erase Korean tradition, language, and historical past, in addition to Korea’s 1948 division into two separate nations by the US and Soviet Union, the Korean Warfare (1950-53), and the authoritarian rule of Presidents Syngman Rhee (1948-60) and Park Chung-Hee (1963-79). In distinction to their American counterparts, working in Minimalism, Colour Discipline portray, and Pop Artwork, the Dansaekhwa artists eschewed the thought of art-about-art and commodity tradition in favor of an summary artwork imbued with traces of the battle for liberation and cultural identification.  

Lee Seung Jio, “Nucleus 85-21” (1985), oil on canvas

In 1962, Lee co-founded the artist group Origin with Suh Seung-Received and Choi Myoung-Yoi, who had been additionally college students at Hongik College. What distinguishes Lee’s work from the older technology and from his contemporaries is his synthesis of geometric abstraction and optical phantasm. Basically, he rejected the monochromatic portray of the sooner technology and went his personal method. His independence and all that it signifies has but to be totally acknowledged within the world artwork world.

The Kukje exhibition consists of 30 work dated between 1968 and 1990. Generally known as the “pipe artist” in Korea, all of Lee’s work include quite a few conduits shifting throughout the floor; he thought of all of his pipe work to be a part of his Nucleus sequence. His pipes or conduits may be learn as machines, arteries, and roots. That they evoke machines, human organs, and nature underscores the interconnectedness of all three, and the necessity to preserve a correct steadiness.  

Lee’s tubular varieties precede Peter Halley’s conduits by not less than a decade. In distinction to Halley and Euro-American artists concerned with Op Artwork, Lee rejected the tyranny of flatness that dominated Western abstraction by importing gradient tones into his tubular varieties. He used these gradated varieties to create a stark, airless pressure between two- and three dimensionality. As Korea turned an industrialized nation and superior technologically, Lee appears to have had misgivings however he totally lacked a way of nostalgia. He acknowledged that point couldn’t be turned again or slowed down when it got here to the accelerated modernization of Korea. 

Lee Seung Jio, “Nucleus” (1968), oil on canvas

In work akin to “Nucleus 78 – 23,” “Nucleus 78 – 24,” and “Nucleus 78 – 25” (all dated 1978), and “Nucleus 80 – 10” (1980), Lee restricted his palette to gray-to-black gradients. Within the works dated 1978, the pipes are set at a slight left-to-right downward diagonal, whereas within the one dated 1980, the pipes rise from the underside edge at a slight diagonal to the fitting. The colours evoke coal mud, soot, and air pollution, whereas the diagonal tilt means that one thing is askew. A grim feeling runs by means of these work. And but, they’re visually mesmerizing, and on this method mirror the promise of expertise and fashionable conveniences to vary materials life. That’s the energy of Lee’s work. For all of their severity, repetition, and evocation of sameness, his pulsing, optical varieties maintain the viewer’s consideration and by no means turn into boring. They turn into about one thing greater than their visible results, which he attains by means of his painstaking software of paint within the service of good gradations.  

Lee’s need for perfection provides one other degree of that means to the work. He should have skilled a sense of satisfaction and pleasure in with the ability to management such massive surfaces. This sense of enjoyment infuses the work with contradictions. They’re visible paradoxes, directly strict and (within the black work) velvety and sensuous. 

Are Lee’s strict repetitions meant to convey the dehumanizing results of industrialization? Or is his consideration to the applying of paint and masterful management of tonality meant to counsel humankind’s cussed resistance to being directed by exterior forces decided to attain effectivity and flatten distinction. For the entire artist’s repetition and use of a signature type, every portray has a particular configuration, in tandem with a way of deliberation. He isn’t just filling in a pre-established grid or set vocabulary of varieties with totally different colours — one thing extra essential than a shade alternative is occurring in these works, and the hypnotic spell they forged on us is addressed to one thing extra essential than optical results. That, I might argue, is what makes these work philosophical mediations on what a society means when it claims to be dedicated to progress. 

Lee Seung Jio, “Nucleus 89-20” (1989), oil on canvas

Lee Seung Jio continues at Kukje Gallery (54, Samcheong-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea) by means of October 30. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.

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