To pursue your creativity takes effort. There's the time and expense. Maybe you're dealing with complex client requirements or other commitments. Perhaps there's doubt, insecurity or even anxiety holding you back. We get it; it's not easy. But spare a thought for Korean artist Yun Hyong-Keun (1928 - 2007), who, throughout his long career, was thrown out of art school, got arrested and tortured, survived a civil war, lived under a dictatorship, and was imprisoned twice all before establishing his own style in his mid-40s.
Amid the fishing boats, amusements and typical seaside distractions, this summer, the sleek Hastings Contemporary in East Sussex is showing the first public gallery exhibition of the paintings of Yun Hyong-Keun. The show is a low-lit retrospective of just a dozen works in a single room, but the hang is beautifully sensitive and respectfully illuminated. It's not unlike the famed meditative Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas.
Interestingly, the Korean minimalist took his inspiration from calligrapher Chusa Kim Jeong-hui rather than the Abstract Expressionism of his American peers. Although some of the pieces immediately evoke the work of Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, Yun was working in synchronicity rather than from direct information. The Korean War in the early 1950s led to the country being largely cut off from Western art and its progressive movements. The aftermath saw a dictatorship adding further limitations to the populace and access to the arts from foreign lands.
Hastings Contemporary is set right on the coast, looking out to the English Channel and its ever-changing colours. Yun's paintings similarly focus on the immeasurable tonal differences of just two hues – ultramarine and umber – representing heaven and earth and echoing the gallery site at the edge of sea and land.
He used heavily diluted oil paints on raw canvas and linen to create a sense of depth and recollect traditional ink-wash paintings. The works on show create a calendar of the second half of the artist's life. Over several images, rectilinear forms appear like a gate, closing in as the inevitable end draws near.
In his own words, from an interview in 1976, "The more one tries to express oneself, the ego becomes self-conscious; hence, the expression becomes contrived. Therefore, I don't think there can be [an] answer to painting. I have no idea what I should paint and at which point I should stop painting. There, amid such uncertainty, I just paint. I don't have a goal in mind. I want to paint something that is nothing, that will inspire me endlessly to go on."
Probably, all quite different from your day-to-day toiling away.
Korean culture has never been more popular in the West. Bibimbap and kimchi can be found on the most unlikely of menus. And with the massive popularity of Squid Game and the ubiquitousness of K-pop, it's refreshing to dive into more measured and subtle works by the leading exponent of Dansaekwha or 'monochrome painting'.
A visit to see these paintings by the Korean Minimalist should make for a cool and welcome break from the sun, sea and pebbles of Hastings' beaches – then you can still enjoy fish and chips afterwards!
Yun Hyong-Keun is on at Hastings Contemporary until 1 October. Through to 24 September, entry includes access to the concurrent show Soutine|Kossof.
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