Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Living history of Korean abstract art

Abstract Art:

“Reunion” (1993) by Han Mook will go on display in a retrospective exhibition from Aug. 22 to Sept. 16 at Gallery Hyundai Gangnam in Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul. / Courtesy of Gallery Hyundai

“Why would I worry about getting old? I haven’t thought about my age for a long time because everyone dies eventually.”

Legendary Korean artist Han Mook still speaks vigorously in spite of his age. He is 99.

Han, a first-generation painter of Korean abstract art, is to show his masterpieces at Gallery Hyundai Gangnam in Sinsa-dong in southern Seoul, starting tomorrow. Some 40 works created between the early 1950s and 2000s will be on display, including some to be shown to the public for the first time.

Born in 1914 in Seoul, Han graduated from Kawabata Art School in Tokyo, Japan, in 1940. In the 1950s, he co-founded the Modern Art Association with other famous artists such as Yoo Young-guk in 1957 and established the Association of Korean Art Critics in 1956.

He was also a professor at Hongik University in Seoul for six years beginning in 1955 before he left for Paris to devote himself to artistic pursuits at the age of 47.

The artist is said to be living proof of Korean art history and a pioneer who accepted Western modernism.

“Han has never lost himself,” Pierre Cambon, chief curator of the Guimet Museum of Asian Arts in Paris describes the artist in his book. “He was completely enraptured by modernity and freedom whenever he was based in Paris and Seoul.”

Han has worked in various genres including oil painting, water colors and printing. The content and format of his pieces range from abstract art to nature-themed images.

His works, the result of his own interpretation of the subject “space,” break into two big parts; the period of “floor planning” before 1970 and that of “dynamism of space” afterwards.

“I have always thought about the concept of space in my life,” said Han at a press conference at the gallery on Thursday. “I have drawn circles that are about 2 meters in radius by a compass I made to produce the four-dimensional works.”

The former part concentrates on two dimensional planar characteristics. The painter’s war-themed works produced in the 1950s show a process of simplifying and dismantling images that eventually became abstract whereas in the 1960s, he became increasingly interested in color, shapes and material and started to explore formative elements.

The latter, however, embodies the four dimensional sense of space, triggered by the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. His works created during this period have been categorized as the “Sonorite (tone) of space.”

“Han is truly a man of elegance. His passion for art and his love of painting tell about his dynamic and bright works. He is also a great poet and a nomad who likes moving around all the time” said Cambon.

The retrospective exhibition runs through Sept. 16. For more information, call (02) 2287-3500 or visit www.galleryhyundai.com.

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