Beauty of Freedom and Origin - Ha, Gyue Hoon Art critic/ professor, Dankook Univ.
Some critics see Choi Woolga's paintings as graffiti drawn on the canvas. It may not be deniable that his works look like the paintings freely drawn by a little kid not minding the formative grammar which should be learned through a regular education, and therefore, that they look like the graffiti found in our ordinary urban space to some degree. On the other hand, however, since his paintings resembling children's scribbles or graffiti are drawn not on the building wall or an urban structure but on the authentic canvas, they can as well be interpreted from a different perspective.
The paintings of the graffiti form, like Choi Woolga's works, expressed impromptu and freely in the urban space are called city or street paintings. We can be aware of their unique expressions at a glance without their artists' signatures or our impression with their images repeated on the graffiti will probably linger longer. Such attributes may brandize or characterize their artists' styles or may be used as means of indicating the spatial sphere of artists' activities.
If we look at Choi Woolga's works closely, we may witness his attributes repeatedly shown in his images like graffiti. For example, a rectangular color plane is formed by its contour woven compactly with short lines like a needled work, or such a color plane is formed into an animal image with a rectangular body as if it were echoing in a formative way. Otherwise, a curve is repeated to wind up like a vortex or spring. His canvas excludes any painterly illusion. Rather, it shows simple, honest and free expressions at large. Earlier, critic Yoon, Bum Mo found a free rhythm of straight and curved lines in his works as well as an inner cadence therefrom. Most of the graffiti in cities are critical about the society by nature or declaore something, being ill-tempered and playful, and therefore, images are accompanied by texts in most cases. In certain aspects, however, Choi Woolga's image-centered canvas may well be different from the graffiti. While the graffiti is drawn on building wall, road or vehicles, his paintings are drawn on the regular media or canvas, being distanced from the city or street paintings, and furthermore, his paintings are the products of the orthodox art expressions, attempting to explore a new world of art. Merely, in terms of image expressions, namely fancy free or impromptu expressions, there seems to be some typical similarity between his works and graffiti. In 1960's, a group of young black people resisting the racism in Bronx of New York began to express slogans or images with the spray paint on building walls or subway station, and thus, the graffiti called the street painting started. The graffiti in New York was expression of the resistance to racism and discrimination, being critical about the situation that the urban dwellers alienated had lost their identity, but its messages expressed would be expanded gradually to include such themes as opposition to development of nuclear weapons, environmental conservation and human right protection, and more recently, the themes expand to issues of minority groups or miscellaneous private ones.
Graffitos which can be found on the ancient Egyptian or Roman remains and therefore, which may be regarded as etymology of graffiti were crude pictures like kid's ones, but they are similar to today's graffiti because they expressed such key words as political slogans or proclamations or contained the phrases of personal sentiments. Merely, they are different from today's graffiti in New York in that the wall planes were scratched or the natural pigments were used because of underdevelopment of the expression media. Even in the ancient times, the building owners must have been annoyed at their dirty building walls. It is perceived that the history of the hide-and-seek game between building owners and graffito scribblers may be longer than the history of any other human game.
The graffito (graffiti) in the form of fine art is witnessed often on the public facilities today. Its formal freedom and impromptu expression once attracted high attention from the fine art community. If we interpret Choi Woolga's works in association with graffiti or graffito, we may well find that they are similar to and at the same time, different from it. First of all, as mentioned already above, his works seem to be similar to graffiti in terms of formal freedom, impromptu expression, brandizement of artist himself and repetition of images, and simplification of the forms with primary colors and lines devoid of either perspective or realism. The process of his work covering the base color of the canvas with the white color and then, scratching the surface for making forms is reminiscent of the graffito work process.
On the other hand, Choi Woolga's works are different from graffito primarily in that he uses such authentic materials as canvas, oil paint and acryl, and additionally in that he unifies the atmosphere of the entire canvas although it may seem to be footloose and fancy free, being willing to compose the canvas to look harmonious. Moreover, we can hardly find on his canvas such texts or slogans witnessed often on the street paintings.
Choi Woolga's canvas may be characterized by footloose, fancy free and impromptu expressions, but in overall terms, his canvas must be characterized by balance and harmony as well as contrast of colors in terms of lines, plane or dots of colors. As a result, improvision and composition are properly balanced within his canvas. The diverse forms on his canvas revealed through the lines of such primary colors as red, blue and yellow might look entangled or confused but the entire effect is surprisingly very harmonious and decorative.
Being a little different from such views, a Japanese art critic Nakahara Yuske indicated that Choi Woolga's paintings might be compared with the cave wall paintings in the primitive times because they are anarchistically chaotic and disorderly, while pointing out an atmosphere similar to COBRA group's expressionism. Of course, Nakahara finds some order and geometric composition in Choi Woolga's recent works, but what draw his attention primarily is primitivism or the decomposing expression shown on the primitive cave wall paintings. However, Choi Woolga's works show the aspects fundamentally different from the anarchistic cave wall paintings. Above all, images are not overlapped recklessly within the canvas, and the margins of the canvas are balanced to some degree, showing an overall harmony and order.
In terms of themes, as Choi Woolga professes for himself, his exploration of forms and obsession with essence of art in his earlier career would evolve into the focus on existential truth of nature and men. In other words, his struggle to explore his own identity and pursue a global universality during his long stay in Paris, New York and other foreign cities seems to be mirrored metaphorically in his canvas.
He tries to overcome the dichotomic confrontation between spirit and material, being concerned about nature and primitivism. In terms of formality, he is neither too Oriental nor much Occidental. He just tries to express the images perceived universally like children's or primitive men's paintings featuring the human originality; he expresses such images with primary colors, lines and forms.
Indeed, Choi Woolga's works look like drawings rather than paintings in a sense. He expresses the images primarily through line drawings, while revealing some colors on the whitish canvas or overlaying some colors on it. Thus, his canvas is fancy free, being emancipated from the shackles; he shakes off the obsession with the technology producing modern images to open the possibility of approaching nearer the nature of human beings.
Choi Woolga has experienced the fine art communities in New York and Paris or the twin centers of contemporary art, and in the triangular sphere formed by the lines linking these two cities and Seoul, he employs universal and original formative grammar to pursue a painting freedom and essence of men's origin. In his works, we may well experience a visual orchestration harmonizing freedom and beauty of human origin.