1. My first impression with Choi Woolga
At the opening ceremony for a gallery in Paris in mid-1990's, I met him first. He was explaining to the French audience in French affected by the tough and stiff Busan dialect, smiling brightly. Since then, I would meet him twice more, one at SAGA, a famous salon exhibition in France and the other at Art Fair in Strasburg. There, I could see his many paintings.
Since our life in Seoul and Paris was incongruous with each other, we did not much know about each other. Sometime later, I had an opportunity to visit his wide atelier at Mui-dong, filled full with paintings. There, I came to be aware that he had been more widely known in France or Japan than Korea. Of course, I had ever heard about his paintings, though briefly, from a French art critic, and I had been much anxious to know more about him. Choi Woolga I would know afterwards was very humane unlike his dramatic, vigorous and passionate paintings.
2. Choi Woolga's unbounded paintings
Long since then, Choi Woolga would conclude his 10-year-long life in Paris to fly to New York, an art city of more vitality. We parted from each other without exchanging any correspondence, but his paintings viewed at the art fair and in his atelier were deeply impressed in my brain. Despite such deep impressions, art lovers rather than art professionals liked his painting more, I heard. There were so-called manias loving his paintings.
If my memory that his first solo exhibition was held at Suro Gallery in Busan in 1979 is correct, he is now a major artist with 25-year-long career. Nevertheless, he flew to France and experienced the orthodox world of art at Versailles Art College and then, continued his career as artist. His paintings I saw were as much unbounded as his personality.
Since his paintings were too footloose and fancy free, I even suspected that he might be an inborn artist. I mean that his paintings were so passionate and hot. The gorgeous and fascinating colors met each other on his canvas with neither chaos nor conflict to create an image, and hence, his paintings reminded me of Picasso's ones. When he used the black lines boldly, he looked like Georges Rouault, and his paintings showing father's and son's candid expressions and pointillism brush touches were reminiscent of Jean Dubuffet's passionate art brut (primitivism) paintings.
In overall terms, Choi Woolga's paintings around 1990 were unreigned and passionate showing neither hesitation nor wavering like Expressionism paintings or Corneille's ones of COBRA Group. His innovative and solecism brush touches confirmed that his was a genuine artist thirsty and desperate for art. He refused to be bound by any painting style or theme. And just as Rousseau appealed "Let's return to the nature," so he hoped that our original human emotion would be recovered to turn civilization into nature. He raised and repeated a question, "I would like to ignore any painting theory. I just paint."
Choi Woolga has yearned for and dreamed of such a non-formal painting drawn with non-theoretical brush strokes. So, his paintings straightforwardly betray our expectation and anticipation of such theories we feel important as perspective, color contrast and composition. And his canvas shows our daily instruments positioned under no conditions. And he depicts the forms so impromptu that they might look infant and crude. Mixture of colors or techniques are alive in his paintings.
3. Choi Woolga's white paintings viewed at Yongwon reservoir
Some time ago, I happened to see his most recent paintings at a reservoir near Chungju. They were completed all with oil, pastel, crayon and chalk for oil painting. They had an atmosphere quite different from that of his paintings exhibited at KIAF several months before.
Before then, his atelier of about a hundred square meters was full of the paintings drawn on colors, but this time, his paintings looked like being inside the colors. The paintings drawn as if they were carved on the white color resembled the white porcelains during Chosun dynasty. The matured landscapes carved on the white-porcelain-like white color base hallucinated me as if they were the landscapes from Chosun dynasty. However, what attracted me or the audience more were the paintings drawn with a sense of destiny. The artist in a blue jean stained heavily with colors looked like a farmer who wakes up timely in the morning to sow and farm his rice paddy and field.
He says that he produces 6 or 7 works a day but sometimes, he does not produce any work, just walking up and down restlessly. Anyway, he says that he enjoys painting. Yes, Francis Bacon said that art is a gamble, but to Choi Woolga, art is a play itself. What is the unique attribute characterizing our human beings? People say it is a 'thinking.' However, Johan Huizinga (1872-1945) suggested a broader concept including all these. It is a 'play.' He champions that human beings are Homo Ludens. He argues that we have long overlooked importance of play in our culture. He says that significance of human life is derived from 'playing.' He contends that human beings are not different from other animals in that we struggle to survive. When we spare time for play, we can find our own unique meaning of life. In this sense, our human culture was derived from play, while being 'played.' Huizinga further argues that in a formal aspect, the play is an activity for its sake with no goal, and in the same context, Choi Woolga unfolds daily life, emotion and confessions on the canvas. His canvas shows such floating images as fishing man or golfer. Clocks and people are seen in his paintings and montages. Every natural landscape and object is contained in his white painting. I absent-mindedly look at his paintings. Looking more closely at them, they look like the graffiti shown on the shabby walls in the subway or downtown buildings. People call them graffiti. Like graffiti, Choi Woolga's paintings are honest and humane.
4. Some regret
Honestly speaking, I have been much sorry for such artists indulged steadily in works like him. For we regret that we have not much been concerned about them. The artist Choi Woolga burns out hundreds of paintings he sees shameful. He must be very rural Parisian and New Yorker. I believe that too humane and too unbounded and fancy free works of his will be reappreciated by us again.