Kim Tschang-Yeul was a Korean contemporary artist known for his paintings depicting water drops that combine modes of photo-realism and Abstract Expressionism. Born in 1929 in Maengsan in what is now North Korea, during the Japanese occupation of Korea, Kim followed his family south, where he attended the College of Fine Art at Seoul National University between 1948 and 1950. In the mid-1950s, he became associated with the Korean Art Informel movement, which was noted for its embrace of abstraction in place of representational art and rejection of the academic, government-sponsored National Art Exhibition known as gukjeon.Read More
After participating in the Paris Biennale in 1961 and São Paulo Bienal in 1965, Kim moved to New York, where he studied at the Art Students League. His early oil paintings, such as Phenomenon (1968) or Composition (1969), depict clusters of air bubble-like forms surrounded by rings of soft or opaque colours. These works signal Kim's departure from his contemporaries like Park Seo-Bo, Chung Chang-Sup, and Ha Chong-Hyun, whose experiments with abstraction tended towards an exploration of the surface and materiality of painting.
Settling in Paris in 1968, Kim began to create his iconic water drop paintings. His early oil-on-canvas work, Evénement de la nuit (1972), captures a single droplet against a black background; on the droplet shines a reflection of the moonlight on a window. Painted photo-realistically, Kim's water drop appears as though it will glide from the surface, but instead defies gravity and remains as it is. Such a state of ambiguity references the concept of balance in Buddhist and Taoist philosophies—the precarious balance that allows stationary water droplets to sustain their weight on the canvas.
Kim continued to paint water drops, tirelessly exploring different arrangements. These range from a patch of black paint portrayed on the surface of a rendered French newspaper, droplets meticulously portrayed on its surface (Waterdrops, 1986), to a group of raindrops on a wooden board in Bacchus (1998). In his 'Recurrence' series, which he began in 1989, the artist painstakingly added to his water drops backgrounds made up of Chinese characters from The Book of 1,000 Characters, an instructive text for Chinese calligraphy. Some 'Recurrence' paintings, such as Recurrence PK 99006 (1999), show the characters locked neatly into a grid, while others, such as Recurrence SH10012 (2002), depict them in repeated fragments to the point that they appear abstract and indecipherable.
Kim's work has been shown at Gallery Hyundai, Seoul (2020); Almine Rech Gallery, New York (2018); Gwangju Museum of Art (2014); National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts (2012); and Busan Museum of Art (2009), among others. In Korea, he was honoured with The National Order of Cultural Merits in 2012. The Kim Tschang-Yeul Museum of Art, dedicated to his life's work, opened in Jeju Island in 2016.
Ocula | 2019