Whitestone Gallery Hong Kong is pleased to present “淡”, a group exhibition of Korean artists Suh Seung-Won, Kim Keun-Tai, and Kim Deok-Han. This exhibition is a continuation of “The Korean Contemporary Art Exhibition” held at The Korean Cultural Center in PMQ in Central, Hong Kong, in March and April 2019. “淡” is a collaborative show and is organised with and generously supported by the Korean Cultural Center in Hong Kong and Art Chosun.

“淡” is a common and versatile word with multiple definitions in East Asian languages. Depending on context, it can be used to describe colour, taste, or even a state of mind in Korean (담, daam), Chinese (淡, dàn | daam6), and Japanese (たん|あわい(dan|awai). For this exhibition of works by three Korean artists, the word is used to convey a sense of Korean identity and a way of viewing the world with a serene and composed state of mind. Unlike the Zen Buddhist practice of emptying your mind, “淡” is closer to maintaining composure and a sense of serenity in the absence of emotional turmoil by believing in one’s own potential and cultivating self-confidence. The exhibition showcases three generations of Korean artists whose practices date from the 1960s (Suh Seung-Won), 1980s (Kim Keun-Tai), and 2000s (Kim Deok-Han). We believe the works of all three artists are united by a uniquely Korean aesthetic consciousness that transmits the essence of “淡”.

As an early practitioner of the Dansaekhwa art movement, which is characterised by monochromic paintings, and one of the founding members of the geometrically-inspired movement “Origin,” Suh Seung-Won (b. 1941) represents the theoretical foundation of Korean modernism. For over 50 years, Suh has expressed his aesthetic understanding of the simultaneity of time and space through his exploration of the interactions between geometric patterns and backgrounds. Around 1990, the rigid geometric forms found in Suh’s previous work began to disappear, replaced by new depths of space composed of smoothly overlapping rectangular forms that obliterate boundaries. The artist expressed this shift as part of the process of aging:

‘As I got older, however, I rid myself of greed. Nowadays, I think about where we are from and where we are going. For an artist, art is his life and spirit. So, it is natural that my thoughts are reflected in my art.’

This exhibition showcases Suh’s latest works from 2017 and 2018. The canvases are filled with tranquil and warm hues that invite viewers to a deeper understanding of “淡”.

Kim Kuen-Tai (b. 1953) started his painting career in early 1980s, when the art of modernism and social realism collided in Korea against a backdrop of strong student resistance against a military government. Amid these chaotic circumstances, Kim Kuen Tai’s artistic practice and self-reflection led him to devote himself to Taoism. His creative process is closely related to this state of mind, with both his art and beliefs channelling asceticism. The layers which only time can produce are a deep source of inspiration for the artist. Kim Kuen Tai perceives traces of passing time in the weathered mud walls of humble, traditional Korean houses, the surface of generations-old plain celadon vessels, and the texture and colour of the old mulberry paper on a sliding door, all of which find expression in his paintings. The artist explains that ‘There is existence that cannot be felt, heard, or seen,’ but his meditative works seem to convey this aspect of existence in layers of colours and lines.

While Suh and Kim Kuen Tai were influenced by Korean modernism, Kim Deok-Han (b. 1981) is of a newer generation and expresses the sense of “淡” through his use of a traditional material: lacquer. The artist overlays lacquer in multiple colours and repetitively peels them off, leaving only traces of each layer. This laborious process usually takes six to twelve months, as time and patience is required to allow each coloured layer to dry completely before another is applied. The artist explains that his process creates a record of time and space. By peeling off and leaving just traces of any one layer, he captures their accumulated presence and reveals individual moments of the past in the plane of a single painting. At the same time, using the ancient technique of lacquer work ensures that his painting will be preserved for thousands of years. Kim’s meditative approach to the material he uses, and his choice of earthy colours inspired by traditional Korean hanbok dresses, creates striking and thought-provoking paintings.

The work of these three artists will be displayed alongside a selection of Lee UFan’s works from the with winds and correspondence series, further emphasising the unique aesthetic of Korean Dansaekhwa paintings. We hope viewers appreciate the core aesthetic that unites these paintings not just from a visual perspective, but that they also perceive the common feelings, states of mind, and sense of being that they convey. All four artists represent a distinctly East Asian approach to visual art that differs from western traditions and is hard to capture in words. However, perhaps the artist Kim Keun-Tai captures it best when he says, ‘..It’s like a bird has been flying all day long, yet has left no marks of flying.’ The exhibition will be on view from 1 May to 19 May 2019.