Shift from Coloring toward Line Drawing - Yoon, Jin Sup Art critic/ prof. Honam Univ.
Choi Woolga's world of art has evolved through several changes over the last 3 decades. His world of art has changed from the seemingly explosive, gorgeous and passionate colors in mid-80's to an intellectual and semiologic world today. Since such changes have been made primarily over some 20 years, they may seldom be apprehended if we should focus on their parts rather than overview them. And we cannot afford to review his works produced for the period from late 70's to early 80's, which is a regret for us, As he has been too a prolific artist, however, we may well be able to analyze his world of fine art easily in overall terms; since mid-80's, hehas been steadily constructing his own unique world of art only to establish an art sect of his own.
A series of works produced by him during mid-80's are interesting, because they show a kind of his autobiographic art world. Their subjects are the artist's family members centered about him. The examples are "Father" (24x33cm, 1986), "Brother" (41x32cm, 1986), "Blood Relative" (41x32cm, 1986) and so on. Another subject is a strongly sentimental impression with the life surrounding him. The examples are "Mr. Lee's Performance" (54x72cm, 1986), "Night and Drinking" (38x45cm, 1986), "Portrait of A Man" (36.5x23.5cm, 1986), and the like.
The works during this period feature in common a black contour line accompanied by contrast between cool and warm colors and rough touches, and the overall atmosphere is very dark and gloomy. As the artist wrote in one of his essays, such atmosphere may have been attributable to his financial difficulty during this period. However, when compared with his airy and bright primary-colored works during late 80's and early 90's, his earlier works contrast dark color tones, which interests me. As I implied above, such a slack world of art hints artist's sharp sense of compassion for human beings at that time. Considering the attributes characterizing his works at large, such atmosphere must be very peculiar. His paintings during this period suggest a strong sense of affection for their characters. A cry for life in "Brother", a street bandsman's hard life in "Mr. Lee's Performance," a sense of escapism in "Night and Drinking".... All these senses represent artist's warm affection for human beings.
Inferring from the biography about Choi Woolga's works featured in his pictorial, it is presumed that he underwent a great change during late 80's. It was a seemingly explosive contrast among gorgeous primary colors. It is also conceived that the direct factor for such a change might have been a changed living environment; he resided in France during early 90's. For a new living environment would be likely to lead to a new painting style. According to artist's confession, he experienced a great psychic change after his exhibition in 1988. The psychic change may have been attributable to his experience at an atelier in Paris. He would be keen about the nature as mother's womb of civilization, and after all, he would be awakened of the fact that any artistic achievement should have an aesthetic value acceptable universally throughout the world. His artistic itineraries thereafter have been nothing other than incessant migrations and pilgrimages. His artistic itinerary from Paris to New York reminds us of a vagabond's life struggling for an universal aesthetics.
Choi Woolga's works produced in 90's feature a pleasant and animated sense, a characteristic of the Mediterranean culture. Although they belong to the same category as our traditional 5 colors (red, yellow, blue, black and white), his primary colors used during this period give us a different sense or aesthetic taste or color value. The dizzy and explosive images reminiscent of kids' paintings must have resulted from a 'Kunstwollen' (art will) attempting to antagonize the civilization, while praising a sense of freedom deep inside ourselves to be emancipated from the shackles. Choi Woolga's works which may be referred to as to 'modern cave wall paintings' are living diaries written by a civilized man and at the same time, represent a fascinating color festival longing for regression to the cave life of the pre-historic age. Choi Woolga's works characterized by such a strong sense of primitivism may be his own records about today's human life, just as the cave wall paintings during the pre-historic age were records about the primitive life. Such a characteristic is in line with his long and steady use of black line drawings. Choi Woolga as recorder of the daily life or collector of daily images attaches his own unique value and meaning to his drawings by vividly expressing the fragments of our daily life.
After he arranged an atelier in New York, Choi Woolga would undergo another change in his world of art. The change occurred on the threshold of the new millenium. It was a fundamental change, departing far from the gorgeous primary colors and the unique sense of texture of brush touches, characteristics of his works during late 80's and early 90's. In a nutshell, it was a shift from coloring toward line drawing. If his preceding works featured the lines subject to colors, his new works in the new millenium feature the colors subject to lines. Isn't it that the reason why his new works are reminiscent of graffiti is because the colors are subject to lines?
Another characteristic of these new works may be conspicuous use of the white color. His recent works on the thick-box-like canvas tend to be darker. The neutral base colors or the whitish gray, the reddish brown or the flesh color prevailing in his works during early 2000's would represent an interim tendency in the way toward the dominant white color in late 2000's. Anyway, such chromatic colors would appear, although partially, as rectangles on the white canvas later. The rectangular color planes located on the edges of the canvas are expressed as if they were needworked with threads. According to one of his essays the source of which I cannot recall, he was concerned much about the expression implying a fence protecting the kids.
Choi Woolga's works produced in 2000's, which remind us of children's paintings, would be more and more reminiscent of machine design drawings or chemical lab over time. These works combining a variety of signs, letters and images on the canvas like a complicated circuit look like the cryptographies which could be deciphered only by the artist himself. In order to decipher them, we need a help from him. However, the artist is not kinder than suggesting the canvas with his unique lines complicatedly combined with such objects as fish bowl, fish, clock, helicopter, plant, number, star, animal, man, building and room. His paintings do not show any ladder that is required for the audience to apprehend the objects. Thus, the audience would feel like being the forlorn sailors who have to sail their vessel without any nautical.
Here, the cross-encounter between the artist and the audience is realized in an imaginary space inducing such 'an interactivity.' Choi Woolga's works speak to the audience rather than answer them. Not that "here is an apple," but that "it may be an apple or otherwise simply a small circle." Whether the circle can be perceived as an apple or not is wholly up to the audience. So, it requires not only imagination but some patience to read his paintings. Sometimes, reading them may be compared with puzzle game or lime cave exploration, which means we need to be very careful to read them. However, we may as well enjoy his paintings for that reason. It involves an empathy of making his experiences our own as well as a sympathy derived from the empathy.
Choi Woolga's theme or idea is expressed on a plane in a multi-dimensional way. Just as innumerable cells exist in a cyber, so the dimensions of different tenses (past, present and future) exist in his paintings. Criss-crossed time and mobile space are symbolized by such media as clock or helicopter. Accordingly, Choi Woolga's works are the model analogue works, but in terms of semantics, they may well contain the digital contents. The images appearing in his paintings are the objects existing in audience's imagination. We can meet and enjoy them in a cyber world expandable limitlessly. They are the signifier like the buoys floating on the boundary between reality and virtuality.