It is only a decade since Choi Woolga's (real name: Choi Youngdae) paintings were introduced to our fine art community. Still, his name is not so familiar in our fine art markets. Since he had lived overseas for some two decades, he participated a little belatedly in our domestic fine art community, and moreover, his painting style has not much appealed to our emotion, indeed. In addition, even his pen name seems to play a role in having him distanced from our fine art community. Woolga sounds a name of a man far from Eastern Europe or Central Asia, although it sounds like our native word 'Woolbo', too, meaning crybaby.
Anyway, such a sense of distance has not so positively acted for appreciation of his paintings. Today, unique and individualistic forms are much common, but even during late 90's when he showed up in our fine art community after a long overseas life, such forms looked unfamiliar. Footloose brush touches and line drawings like kid's scribbles, unpredictable primitive energy, weightless sense of space, dreamy fancy canvas..... Such unique features were strange but they have helped him to outstand in our fine art community.
The artist's activities before his entrance into our fine art community are veiled much. He had sojourned long in France and would happened to come to Japan, and his successful activities in Japan were bridged to our domestic fine art community in a natural way. One day in 1997 when I happened to meet him at Insa-dong, Seoul, he had just come to Seoul after his exhibition in Osaka, Japan. Since I had heard a news that his paintings had been sold out at his tour exhibitions in Osaka and Kyoto, I was very pleased to see him, wondering what he would say. Then, owing to the successful exhibition tour invited by Asahi TV, a series of exhibitions in Japan were waiting for him. It would be later that I came to be aware that such successful activities had not been easy or accidental.
In fact, his paintings are very sensitive, showing some literary senses, but the prevailing view was that they would appeal more to the Western audience rather than our Koreans. Due to such obsession, he may not have been interested much in our domestic fine art markets. Nevertheless, a series of his exhibitions in Japan hit the markets there. Maybe, the Japanese audience sensitive to a variety of foreign forms were more friendly with his works than we. I remember that it was his success in Japan that our domestic fine art community began to pay attention to him. Anyway, the artists would find a wider base of his fans later in Japan, and thus, he would expand his activities into Paris, German cities and New York.
When his free and unique paintings were introduced to our fine art community, they were accepted as a fresh shock. Although our fine art community has been like a martial art ring with diverse pluralistic forms appearing and disappearing, there have not much been the forms giving a fresh shock to us. During 90's, our domestic fine art community witnessed the long standoff ended under the name of collective individualism in favor of experimental and individualistic art, but at any rate, it was necessary to conclude a period of fine art. Then, Choi Woolga showed up to introduce to our fine art community the canvases combining creative energy and insight into a Zeitgeist; we could not but be impressed with his footloose and fancy free expressions and genuine power of painting as well as his passion and energy.
At a glance, his canvases are reminiscent of New Painting or Trans Avant Garde represented by Basquiat or Baselitz. The clues are fancy free and awkward forms like scribbles, color tones rough and energetic, dark shadows little unexplicable, gloomy and apocalyptic contents, and the like. However, the artist's paintings seem to be different from those dreamy or schizoid ones. Rather, his paintings explore a therapy for the pathological modern world.
Of course, from a therapeutic viewframe, his paintings still look deconstructive and unstable enough to evoke a sense of uncertainty and chaos. Nevertheless, the artist seems to be somewhat cautious about such attributes as may drive him into a certain sect or category of art. Concerning this bone of issue, it would be reasonable for us only to review characteristics and attributes of his art opposing the attempt to evaluate his paintings with the scale of New Painting.
The artist's canvas reminds us, first of all, of the freedom of expressing his unconscious desires and imagination as much as he pleases. Since a structure of certain icons and patterns repeated can be found in such a freedom, we may well interpret that his works are obsessed with autistic nostalgia and impulse of play. Such duality is converged onto a painting concept and motto called 'weightlessness.' We human beings who are doomed to experience gravity dream of non-gravity mentally and physically. I once was concerned about the universe on the occasion of an event for selection of would-be astronauts organized by a local broadcasting company I involved. Then, I used to dream of myself floating in the weightless space.
"We never want to feel a sense of weightlessness in a state of non-gravity
We just want to be conscious of weightlessness in the state of gravity.
This world not allowing for such a consciousness.
Not requiring the energy
Everything not spoiled..............
May I be dreaming
A short dream at dawn dreamt of even now
Like the endless orgasm of possession crossing the blue ocean.
I have to show that a weightlessness exists in this world"
- Quoted from artist's note
The concept of 'weightlessness' mentioned by the artist at various points may be read as a polysemous metaphor. I mean the metaphor for physical limitedness of time and space as well as for supernaturalness, mixture of first and later events, ontological resistance to the inborn burdens like the Sin or destiny, epistemological skepticism or criticism about the established order or value immanent inside us. The artist suggests that his creativity is premised clearly on the state of gravity or reality and history. Weightlessness is an important key to understanding of his works. It is a concept differentiated from an equivocal state of chaos or deconstructivism, and therefore, it may well be an important clue to prevent us from dismissing his works hopelessly as a trend of art.
Even as recently as 90's, the ontological weightlessness and the epistemological weightlessness were summed up into a creative order of space. The link between space and object is disturbed, while the spatial hierarchy of common sense is overturned, in favor of a visual weightlessness. When we review closely the secret forms and gestures like child's grumbles on his canvas, we will enjoy some interpretive spice. The objects appearing on his canvas are mostly of the ordinary landscape. However, they would look humorous due to deformative and weightless composition, while hinting some surrealistic crudeness and existential seriousness. We can confirm that his canvas does neither negate the gravity itself nor abolish such formal elements as minimum modelling or composition.
In case of his paintings using the TV as object which have been frequently drawn, the images shown through the Brown tube are very random, crossing the threshold of its frame freely to float about. The audience who view the scene would be invited to an illusion of weightlessness, because the people slanted with their eyes suffering from the illusion and lingering effects are creatively recomposed to look weightless. At the same time, let's not overlook the delightful canvas; the landscapes of our contemporary age are rough and intense but vital and imaginative as if they were carved on the rocks.
Lately, the sense of weightlessness felt from his canvas has been expressed mainly by the line drawings near deformations. He scratches his canvas of white or dark base to draw lines or signs like scribbles. His canvas is reminiscent of the line drawings on the white paper by infants or kids using the color pencils. It may well be not wide off the mark for us to tell that his degenerative scribble-like images are in the same line with the primitivism characterizing the rock-carved paintings during the pre-historic age. Of course, we can hardly avoid the feeling that such a formative tendency is being patterned or diagrammed. As the concept of weightlessness is being consolidated, he seems to be contended with the primitivism of his some reductive painting.
Now, we may confirm that such evolution into the two-dimensional painting conduce to acceleration of the weightlessness, dismissing planes or volumes in the genuine sense of the words. The line drawings by means of scratching may be equated with a temporal weightlessness because they look as if they were reproducing the rock-carved paintings during the pre-historic age. Just as the primitive men carved the contents of their common life on the rocks being dictated by their sense of aesthetics, so the artist carves his own diary on his canvas as commanded by his own sense of aesthetics. Yes, he carved his paintings rather than painted them.
Since his concept of non-gravity is premised on its relativity with gravity, the metaphor of weightlessness perceived from his canvas is calm, intricate and logical rather than impulsive, betraying our expectation. Upon reviewing his canvas more analytically, it is not difficult to find the traces of tuning it with a control and manipulation mechanism. As indicated above, his deformation and recomposition are intricate and compact, while his color tone activates some aesthetic code tacitly.
In particular, we can witness much that he treats the color planes not only with brushes but also with the scratches of diverse effects. As a result, the colors of the same category are appropriately tuned for more aesthetic effects. Of course, we know that the distracted color tones are intentionally created. Merely, it cannot but be interpreted that the nuances of diverse tones and effects are combined to reconfirm the premise of gravity. Given such interpretations, it may be difficult to make techniques and senses compatible with free imaginations and conceptual development, but they seem to be relatively well controlled and combined within the artist's capacity and experiences.
There may be numerous critical comments about his recent void canvas. While he attracted audience's eyes to his tacit forms and compositions in the past, he seems to replace them with a sense of void today. Since he weaves several lines loosely, the net called canvas would ensure free cross-encounters among diverse experiences. Our audience's experiences would freely travel between the knots of the loosely woven net only to exchange freely with the artist. We need to appreciate again whether the ultimate value of artist's weightlessness lies in such exchanges or not.