A Yearning for the Native Home - Flight of Choi Woolga's Recent Paintings - Lee, Hee Young Art critic/Researcher of ARTne Visual Media Institute

 

 

In 1979 just before the "great" '80's, Choi Woolga filled with the surrealistic hints relying on allegories and narrations his first solo exhibition revealing his artistic enterprising as professional artist. It was held in Busan. For a decade or 90's, he produced in Paris the canvases full of vitality with the images adhered to the flat surface and the forms contoured obscurely. In 2000's in New York, he abandoned the two-dimensional figures to enumerate the contracted linear forms like hieroglyphics or signs and highlight the entire specification of the canvas.

Amid those diverse changes witnessed in his 30-year-long art career, his paintings have been read as "fancy free primitive" (Yoon, Bum Mo), "Play for Play's Sake" (Kim, Jong Geun) or "impertinent" (Kim, Hyung Soon). Their remarks seem to reflect their positive expectation of Choi Woolga's paintings. The rapidly changing social experiments such as industrialization, democratization and informatization has involved Choi Woolga and his neighbors. The artist himself has produced his works by throwing himself onto the places where such extreme experimentations of civilization have been made cyclically or every 10 years, in an effort to plan his own art by responding to the changes. From the criticisms made for his paintings, I infer 'what should be'; fine art, particularly painting is obliged to cure the pathological phenomenon immanent fundamentally in the social experimentations and the extreme practices of civilization. Since Choi Woolga's unaffected painting has conformed to such a trend of 'what should be,' critics could well have such expectations of his paintings.

 

Skepticism

According to him, Choi Woolga produced paintings in 1980's being armed with 'a transparent human sense conforming to the nature.' He would put into practice a spirit of 'war and magma' in 1990's by giving vent to all his life and language of heart onto the canvas 'without filtering them' for a fundamental challenge and attempt for paintings.' Meanwhile, he would move from Paris to New York in 2000's but he could not but 'abandon everything' gained from himself who had poured 'everything' breathlessly into his canvas, and after all, he would experience 'a sense of frustration.' In short, his new life as artist in New York required him to give up his hither-to belief in life of art and start a new life of art again.

When an artist attempts to claim for his or her homogeneity with a new mode or form, he or she would fall into a serious isolation. The neighbors who have recognized him or her would be concerned about him or her or even turn their back to him or her. Choi Woolga did not hesitate to rush toward the canvas leaning against the wall at such a turning point. He left his life and neighbors behind to concentrate on the works. The painterly or the typical attribute of painting starts with covering and filling of the surface. Choi Woolga sums up his long struggle in the following phrase; "Why should I express everything all?"

His insight precisely points out the contradiction immanent in the essential nature of painting. In New York, Choi Woolga would be aware that everything he had struggled and sacrificed himself for should be devoted to the possibility of painting. Such an awareness was a result from his intuition into the contradiction that painting should rely on the physical substance or 'the painterly' and at the same time, should depend on some unrealistic images beyond expressions. A painting would be completed by 'the painterly.' Nevertheless, Choi Woolga would not abandon his media as the Minimal artists do, or would not give up the labor of the 'painterly' as the conceptual artists do. Rather, he paid attention thoroughly to 'the painterly', canvas and such pictorialities as structure, and thereby, experimented them.

 

Scale

The canvases worked out in New York in 2000's contrast their entire shape sharply with the relationship between gallery spaces in the real world. The thickness of the canvas edges would be emphasized or painted. Attention to the canvas edges and their thickness would highlight the sharp contact points between the illusory space of painting and the real space where the audience stand, pointing out the obscurity of the boundary. Depending on how to read the painting, the audience would see the shadow of the wall plane falling below the canvas as real or as painting space.

Here, his canvas would be perceived to respond to the scale rather than the size. While his past paintings had been the arenas of struggle like the "magma" giving vent to "a clear consciousness," these works featured a consciousness or struggle limited within the canvas. Upon reviewing his recent paintings contrasting the painting space with the real space, we could see that his past paintings look like the illustrations limited within the images. While his past paintings were limited within the space relying on illusion beyond expressions, his recent paintings are expanded to the points where the illusory space collides with the physical substance of colors surrounding the surface.

 

Choi Woolga's changed canvas is distinguished from his former one even in terms of the shape drawn on its surface. In his recent series, he suggests as simple lines of rapid speed the various objects derived from the miscellaneous things around him or those harbored in his heart. Such suggestion differed from the past one for setting the contour of objects and covering their insides with colors. Protrusion of the pointed edges shaped like the sawteeth hinting animal' beak, repetition of the parallel lines waving in two or three strands, floating human bodies and animals contracted into skeletons, movement of the hips hinted by 'W'-shaped lines, glittering dotted lines like larva's numerous feet or simple organism's cilia, meandering spiral echo.... All these images rely on the drawings hinting only the characteristics of objects rather than explaining them.

These shapes are not arranged hierarchically centering round a certain part of the canvas but distributed randomly and evenly throughout the canvas, Accordingly, the audience cannot see from his canvas such intentional harmony of composition as introduction-development-turn-conclusion or rhythm but only can see that the entire shape of the canvas proudly occupies the real space. Thus, the audience would be assured of the scale of canvas, and furthermore, experience the media visually and instantly. While his recent paintings rely on direct experiences, his past paintings rely on gradual reading of the images hinting a development of a serious event.

 

Turn

Now, his paintings are not about the episodes of the images limited to the surface but premised on the direct visuality of the audience present in the real world. Individual forms float, while noises disgorged from a variety of sounds contrast with the structure repeating the four edges of the canvas. Together with the rectangular color planes positioned quite inadvertently, such forms as human body, clock and table rely on combination of horizontal and vertical lines. The grid structure with horizontal and vertical lines repeated looks tidy, striking a contrast with the noises to maximize them. Here, it is confirmed that Choi Woolga's media form a space of opportunity for collision between opposing attributes rather than a harmonious structure delivering a single straightforward message.

Most of the forms relying on drawing in Choi Woolga's recent series conspicuously record the behavior of making a headlong rush toward the canvas. Such composition differs from his past paintings revealing the forms with the painterly relying on brushes in most cases. His paintings produced in 2000's disclose their forms scratched with knife or hard tool on the white surface overlaid on a dark base. The forms are the visual stimulations protruding forwards to counter the base being pushed backwards. In order to reveal the forms harbored in mind, Choi Woolga leaves his gestures by carving the surface. They are the gusts of his volition for expression. Strictly speaking, however, his forms are revealed by recovering the original base. In other words, they are created when the shapes which should protrude are pushed back. Here, we can witness a collision between forms and their base.

Choi Woolga's recent flight of painting is characterized by comprehensive homogeneity of the forms relying on the contracted drawing, concern about the scale and introduction of a real space, freedom of revealing diverse cries of the forms admitting all individual attributes, turnover of the forms revealed by exposing the base which should have been pushed back, and the like. Such characteristics connote the skepticism he suffered first in New York and the practice of art there.

 

Recovery

The core of such experiments enabling Choi Woolga's flight seems to have been attributable to his recognition of the collision between opposing attributes rather than his attempt to compose the parts in harmony with the integrated whole. It makes his recent works centered about audience differentiated from his past paintings centered about images, while it seems to have been achieved through his consistent painting experiments and setting of a direction long after diverse changes and experiments. The characteristics of his paintings are selection of the materials evoking the memory of infancy and the simple tones and quite inadvertent arrangement of impromptu drawings and painterly, all of which have been consistent over the last 3 decades. The crude contrast among the forms suggested always habitually and all of a sudden by him is quite similar to the collision between the opposing elements enabling his flight.

Such crudeness has been read continuously as humor every period together with the naivety hinted by the materials. Moreover, the primary colors and sloppy painterly applied to his past paintings match the simple visuality and the primitive emotion of touch, even reminding us of the successful primitive art masters. The audience who have viewed his paintings so far have in common indicated a critical allusion to civilization. Considering that Choi Woolga's earlier works were affected by surrealism, the contrast between crude elements seems to have been quite a deep-rooted artistic strategy of his.

Coil Woolga champions the principle of "non-gravity" together with his painterly. According to him, non-gravity existed already, and because it was hidden by gravity, everything came to be defined by order. Thus, he believes that in order to overcome the irregularities, our modern men should recover the original state of non-gravity. Such an argument of his aims to fight the stereotype of reality by paying attention to the pan-universal truth. In this context, he refers to the case of Paris that letters are delivered through underground paths and the air of Alps is contained into the barrels to be sold at the market, and further, points out the case of New York that shoes and accessories are sold at cafeterias. Such a belief of his is accompanied by the methodology of facing and admitting what exist already. He attempts to explain as "principle of non-gravity" the aspiration for the original things, places or times.

The humor witnessed in Choi Woolga's paintings does not necessarily consist of comedies. As we can witness in his paintings such manipulations as revealing of the base painterly on the canvas or the existence of the real audience or outcrying of opposing elements, tragedy is allowed in his paintings, too. In the same context, the forms revealed as positive in his past paintings are revealed as negative in his recent works. I can confirm several clues to read his paintings as ontology through his painting humor allowing for tragedy.

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