Ha Chong-Hyun is recognised for his contributions to the development of abstract art in postwar South Korea. The artist is closely associated with Dansaekhwa, a style of monochromatic abstract painting that emerged in the late 1960s and 70s with an emphasis on process, tactility, and surface.Read More
Ha Chong-Hyun rose to prominence in the early 1970s for 'Conjunction', a series of paintings made using bae-ap-bub. A culmination of Ha's innovative experimentations with unorthodox materials, bae-ap-bub involves pushing paint through the back of the canvas. Though simple, this method allows for countless variations depending on the size of the pores in the fabric and the pressure with which the paint is applied.
Graduating with a BFA from Seoul's Hongik University in 1959, Ha Chong-Hyun began experimenting with geometric abstractions in the early stages of his career. An example is 'White Paper for Urban Planning' (1967–9), a series of oil paintings that depicts angular shapes composed of straight lines and monochromatic gradients in an echo of the decorative patterns found in traditional Korean architecture.
Ha's primary materials at the time consisted of inexpensive and quotidian materials, a trait he shared with many of his contemporaries working in an environment recovering from war. As he could not afford to produce large-scale works, the artist sought to investigate the full range of materials available around him. Burlap sack, which was dispatched by the United States for relief goods during and after the war in Korea, became one of his favoured canvases.
Examples include the installation Relationship 72-11 (1972), in which Ha strung rope between two walls of a gallery and placed an upright wooden beam on top. The artist also incorporated barbed wire into his paintings, arranging it horizontally in Untitled 72-C (1972) or in a grid pattern in Work 73-15 (B) (1973).
Since the early 1970s, Ha has painted 'Conjunction' employing his idiosyncratic bae-ap-bub method. The surfaces of Conjunction paintings are diverse, ranging from the vertical columns of light and darker shades of oil paint in Conjunction 79-11 (1979) to short, vertical strokes of white in Conjunction 05-171 (2005). Others, such as Conjunction 16-321 (2016), depict an array of short, angular marks that resemble the vowels of hangul (the Korean alphabet). Many 'Conjunction' paintings also foster a sense of dimensionality where the edges of paint congeal, as can be seen in Conjunction 14-136 (2014) and Conjunction 18-07 (2018).
In his interview with Ocula Magazine, Ha Chong-Hyun explained that the word 'conjunction' 'is really the essence of my work: the conjunction between the materials—oil paint and hemp cloth—and my spirit and performance.' Ha's concern with the intersection between the act of painting and the physicality of the materials that go into it deeply aligns him with the philosophies of the Dansaekhwa artists at large, among them Lee Ufan, Park Seo-Bo, and Yun Hyong-keun.
'Post-Conjunction', first presented in Ha's retrospective exhibition at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA) in 2012, continues in tandem with 'Conjunction'. Both a reinterpretation and expansion of bae-ap-bub, Ha arranges narrow bands of wood into linear patterns and applies oil paint around or underneath the pieces. Once hardened, the paint adds a sculptural quality to the wooden pieces, as well as an array of colours to resulting works such as Post-Conjunction 11-3 (2011) and Post-Conjunction 21-201 (2021).
Ha Chong-Hyun has been exhibiting internationally since the 1960s.
As a leading figure of Dansaekhwa, his work has been featured in major group exhibitions of Dansaekhwa, among them Dansaekhwa and Korean Abstractions, The Boghossian Foundation, Brussels (2016); From All Sides: Tansaekhwa on Abstraction, Blum & Poe, Los Angeles (2014); The Art of Dansaekhwa, Kukje Gallery, Seoul (2014).
Solo exhibitions include Ha Chong-Hyun, Kukje Gallery, Seoul (2022); Return to Color, Tina Kim Gallery, New York (2021); Ha Chong-Hyun, Daejeon Museum of Art, South Korea (2020).
Group exhibitions include DANSAEKHWA, The Practicing Meditators, Seojung Art, Seoul (2022); Painting and Existence: Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Abstract Paintings, Tang Contemporary Art, Beijing (2020); Abstraction(s), Song Art Museum, Beijing (2019); Dansaekhwa, Yuz Museum, Shanghai (2017); Dansaekhwa, Collateral Event of the 56th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia (2015).
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2022