Dumonteil Shanghai is pleased to present 上善若水—from the soil (the highest excellence is like that of water), the solo exhibition of Korean artist CHAE Sung-Pil. This is the first solo exhibition in China for Chae, who resides in France, featuring his last twenty works created with natural pigments on canvas. Under the guidance of Eastern philosophies, the artist explores the 'dynamism of nature' with soil and minerals guided by the 'forces of nature', while conveying his thoughts and feelings triggered by nostalgia for his distant homeland.
Just as landscapes can be appreciated from any angle, a viewer can also enter Chae Sung-Pil's work from any perspective and experience the myriad forms of nature intersecting in different dimensions of time and space: from giant waves that reach the sky in seconds, to the geological deposits which formed over thousands of decades, from the flow of the waves by the shore to the dance of the wheat fields in the wind, from the ripples of the sudden rain to the patterns carved by aging trees... ...
The artist: he is the one who accompanies, who offers and guides but who never completes. Only nature completes things. As such, the verb 'to paint', for Chae Sung-Pil, is not conjugated according to the traditional 'I paint, you paint, he paints', etc... but rather as a reflexive verb 'I paint myself'. The tableau 'paints itself'. — David Rosenberg, art critic and curator
Chae works with several distinctive rhythms, among which the most fascinating is the process of a sudden change. For instance, he flings the paint with a broom-like brush, leaving several trails across the pre-layered canvas on the studio floor: he uses a hose shooting jets of water on a canvas with soil or ink drops. Whereas another rhythm is more 'undulating': as he stands behind the canvas, holding the stretcher in his hands, he constantly changes the position of the canvas, directing the flow of water up, down, left and right... The most gradual pace occupies the preparation phase: the artist invests an enormous amount of time in collecting soils, making his own pigments (a technique that Chae has researched and mastered while studying Oriental painting at university), carefully filtering and refining the muddy water, and finally applying several coats of silver powder made from pearl powder to the canvas.
Chae once explains the 'flow', the essential technique in his creation involving both 'control' and 'serendipity': Water is something that accumulates and overflows, and when we look down on the ground from a high sky, overflowing water is called a river, creating empty footprints as it passes through and divides the land. And what he does in the virtual space is 'a poetic pictorial metaphor to the 'Tao' of nature', which uses the canvas as the screen, where the synergy of the materials, the process of creation, and the final result take place.
This attempt of approaching the essence of Nature is influenced by Eastern philosophy, especially Taoism and the doctrine of the five elements. It builds an unusual connection among materials, techniques, and subject matters, making Chae's work stand out from both Dansaekhwa (Korean monochrome painting) and Western abstract expressionism. This coincides with Chae's remark on the boundary, The word 'boundary' is not only the point that distinguishes this and that, but also the point where they meet, and I think that the boundary is the point of change and creation, especially from a creative perspective.
Among the five elements, 'water' is the closest to the 'Tao', 上善若⽔, the highest excellence is like that of water, which nourishes all things gently without competing with them and is always content to stay in a humble place that no one seeks after, thus it is the closest to the 'Tao'. Whereas the 'earth' is the closest element to the artist and the most connected element between Eastern and Western cultures. Chae Sung-Pil, who left home for study at a young age, uses soil as the 'medium' of home, evoking not only his carefree childhood memories — rolling in the hills, playing in the dirt, accompanied by the sea breeze from the mountains — with all kinds of sounds, smells and touches, but also his longing for family, among which Chae's mother is his most concern during all these years of living overseas.
As for his creations, Chae comes up with new ideas and changes his mind on a daily basis, but if there is one theme that he would like to keep, it would be works about his mother, which means 'creating works that represent Earth, Water, Nature, and Land'. Using blue to express water also comes to him naturally. The artist once wrote Blue is the sea that embraces the land and the sky that has watched over the history of the earth. Besides, blue also has a prominent place in the history of art.
The visual impact of these 'earth' and 'water' composed of soil and minerals, brown and blue magnify these images infinitely in our perception, trying to awaken our connection with the 'Origin of heaven and earth'. This sense of universality is what Chae Sung-Pil aspires to achieve, and his life in France over the past twenty years has convinced him that the raison d'être of the artist is to create works that transcend the barriers of language, culture, and even time, while constantly experimenting at various boundaries to seek a world that belongs to him and resonates with others.
Press release courtesy Dumonteil Contemporary.