Friday, 24 February 2017

Park Seo-Bo:Dansaekhwa

"Art is no longer an act of fulfilment, but an act of emptying".

What is Dansaekhwa? It's hard enough to say let alone spell but it, or Tansaekhwa as it's also known, is a movement in Korean art that began in the 70s when artists from that country started to manipulate the materials of painting rather than just draw pictures. It fuses the Western abstract tradition, not least Lucio Fontana's ripped canvases, with more traditional Korean calligraphy.

It doesn't take very long to look at at all. That doesn't mean it has no worth though. The works are aesthetically pleasing in their inscrutability and, for those who value process as much as result, they're small things of beauty.

The septuagenarian Park Seo-Bo, along with Cho-Yong Ik, Chung Sang-Hwa, Lee Ufan, and Lee Dong Youb, is one of the key figures associated with this movement and, because of the patronage of the White Cube, is the one most accessible to British art pilgrims.

He's enjoying a series of shows at their Mason's Yard gallery and the current one, curated by Katharine Kostyal, goes under the none too memorable name of ZIGZAG:Ectriture 1983-1992. The fourteen works on show are all named Ecriture though they do have numbers to differentiate them. It seems about right that they haven't been given names as such as there's really so little to them.

Some of them look like badly artexed ceilings and others like the footplate of Lansing Bagnall FRER 5. Despite this they're rather charming. I look at lots of things everyday and sometimes it makes a nice change to look at (virtually) nothing for a while. Seo-Bo has been making these 'escritures' for half a century now which either shows a remarkable work ethic (something my friend Jason who lives in Korea tells me is highly likely) or an incredible dearth of imagination.

I'll give Park the benefit of the doubt and plunge for the latter. Less credible are his claims that his works are imbued with some kind of Taoist or Buddhist spiritual significance. Park studied brush painting at Hong-Ik University in Seoul during the Korean War but, after moving from Gyeongbuk to the Western region of his country, he became more interested in paper itself and its connection to almost every aspect of domestic life. Mulberry paper, to give one example, is often sealed with oil and used, in Korea, for flooring traditional houses.

His works in this series feature several layers of this mulberry paper, known in Korea as hanji, layered in strips and soaked with a water based paint mix using Japanese Go Fun natural pigment made from crushed sea shells, acrylic, and soot before being applied to the canvas when still wet. It sounds like a lot of hard work for such simple results but, again, it seems that Park's process is as important to him as any end result.

Which, could, of course lead to accusations of self-indulgence. I think the relative beauty of the end products counters this argument though. Park has said "I think colour, which is organic, can be used as a tool for healing" which is a rather pretentious, not to say preposterous, claim and, anyway, it's not like he uses much colour which suggests he doesn't actually want us to heal. Bad Park!

There is the occasional streak of red and, in the same way that a small change in a minimal composition can seem huge by virtue of the company it keeps, this has a tremendous effect. The artist Paul Klee died in Switzerland in 1940 at the start of World War II. He once said "the more horrifying the world becomes the more art becomes abstract". It's an understandable reaction if not much of a solution to anything. I guess as the world goes to shit we can at least have pretty things to look at.

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