Woolga Choi's anarchic world - Nakahara Yuske [art critic]

I visited Rascaux cave in France and Altamira cave in Spain eight years ago to see the famous cave paintings. These two caves are known to the world by the famous cave paintings estimated to be done in the Paleolithic period.

As both cave paintings had been introduced so many times to us in the form of photographs, it was easy to understand that the general forms of the depicted animals were described in a kind of abstract form, but the surface features, such as texture or feeling, were hard to see in detail from the photographs. If they were oil paintings, I could have possibly estimated the surface features from the photographs, as I had seen plenty of oil paintings.

However, as I had never seen cave paintings in reality before then, it had been extremely difficult to estimate the surface features. I cannot say that the sole purpose of the trip was to find out the surface texture of the cave paintings, but I was strongly intrigued by the unusual surface features.

The Paleolithic cave paintings are the first paintings created by human beings who lived tens of thousands of years ago. They are especially significant in the art history as it is known that Neanderthal men, who lived in the same period as Cromagnon men, did not leave any paintings.

Rascaux and Altamira cave paintings depict mainly animals such as horses and bison. The following three techniques were found. Firstly, they scratched the calcareous surface of the cave with a sharp stone to depict the outline of the animals. Secondly, they drew the outline of the animals with powdered oxidized metals such as zinc oxides as a pigment. Thirdly, they painted the whole body of the animals with oxidized metallic pigments.

In other words, the first technique can be called line carving or engraving, the second technique drawing, and the third technique painting. While Rascaux cave painting consists of all of the three techniques, Altamira painting is based on the painting technique as the dominant technique. Therefore, I dare to declare that these three main artistic techniques already appeared in the Paleolithic period.

When I visited Woolga Choi's studio, many pieces of his work reminded me of those cave paintings. It was not because I knew that Choi's art was based on <primitivism> but because the surface features of Choi's work in front of me were similar enough to remind me of the cave paintings.

I do not mean at all that the three techniques are too simple or rudimentary because they are found in the Paleolithic cave paintings. Drawing and painting techniques, carving or engraving techniques still prevail in the present art practice.

Considering the appearance of the three techniques as a process of the development from a lower level of technique to a higher level of technique, it may mean that painting is the highest level of technique and drawing is one-step lower level of a technique. According to this logic, it may also mean that oriental paintings in Indian ink are lower than oil paintings as the oriental paintings in Indian ink, which origin from China, is based on drawing technique. Those inferences do not make sense at all.

Although Choi uses oil paints and acrylic paints, pencils, and pastels, drawing is certainly the most fundamental technique found in his work. I think the reason why Choi uses Korean paper rather than cloth is closely associated with the drawing technique. Without a doubt, the combination of the drawing technique and the use of Korean paper show that the artist is from Korea where the drawing technique has a long history as an artistic basis.

However, I do not adhere to the idea that human beings invented the drawing technique in the Paleolithic period and that it should be considered in relation with a specific region. The reason why Choi's work reminded me of cave paintings was that the drawing technique used in his work was very impressive.

The word used to summarize Choi's artistic world based on the drawing technique is a strikingly "anarchic" world. I describe Choi's artistic world with the word "anarchic" as various images which appear in Choi's work do not have a hierarchical order at all. Images, such as people, houses, cars, boats, realistic or imaginary animals and plants, clothes, domestic appliances, and pistols, appear in his work without order according to the significance. Also, realistic sizes and criteria for comparison are completely ignored.

Nevertheless, Choi's anarchic art gives us a mysterious mood of freedom, which might be the cause of the anarchic nature. According to the present classification of fine arts, Choi's work belongs to expressionism and the art of Cobra, an experimental group, appears to be similar to Choi's. However, Choi's work is expressionism with a very bright mood. If it was expressed by the painting technique rather than the drawing technique, it is doubtful that the results would be this bright.

Choi worked in France for a long time and then moved to New York. Choi's oil paintings created in the late 1890's already showed an anarchic tendency, but the tendency became even stronger when he moved to France. I do not know what experiences Choi had and how his artistic world has changed in detail, but it is obvious that the experiences in France provided an enormous influence for his art.

Recently, some of Choi's work has shown a certain degree of order in his anarchic world. Some images of geometrical forms have appeared in his recent work for the first time. The inclusion of a certain degree of order might cause a change in the expressionism nature of Choi's work even though this part is difficult to predict.

Choi's art is very colorful and this factor makes his anarchic world even more pronounced. Along with the color factor, lots of fine lines occupying the entire canvas are a feature of Choi's work. So far, I have used the word 'anarchic' multiple times. I am not sure that there are any other artists who have such an anarchic trend in Korea. Choi's work seems extremely unique to my eye.

Finally, in reference to the cave paintings previously mentioned, a herd of animals depicted in the caves are also extremely anarchic. This is certainly because they were painted or drawn by different people across a few generations and also because the realistic size and proportional rules are completely ignored. Although they do not have as bright of a feeling as Choi's work, this is mainly due to the appearance of only three colors, which are red, black, and brown. However, it is very intriguing that the Paleolithic techniques are vividly alive in Choi's art and that they are reflected as a unique bright and cheerful mood in his artistic world.