Renowned Painter of Water Drops Kim Tschang-Yeul Dies at 91
6 January 2021
Kim, who spent much of his life in Paris, was among Korea's most celebrated artists.
Kim Tschang-Yeul, Composition (1970). Acrylic and cellulose lacquer on burlap. 162 x 136 cm. Courtesy Tina Kim Gallery.
Korean painter Kim Tschang-Yeul passed away on 5 January, 2021, at the age of 91. Renowned for his decades-long project of depicting water drops, he was among Korea's most celebrated artists.
'[Kim's] legacy extends to that of a stringent individualist with a willingness to learn from others, a cross-cultural bridge harmonizing Eastern and Western values, and lastly a scholar, whose brilliance and wisdom shone through the understated complexity of his work,' said Tina Kim Gallery, New York, in a statement.
Kim Tschang-Yeul was born in 1929 in what is now North Korea. After Korea was liberated from Japanese colonial rule in 1945, he moved south and studied under artist Lee Kwae-dae. He began an art degree at Seoul National University in 1949, but his studies were interrupted by the Korean War (1950–1953).
In the mid-1950s, Kim became involved in Korea's Informel movement, which branched off from European experiments in abstract expressionism. After a stint at the Art Students League of New York, he moved to France in 1969, where he remained for the next 45 years, spending much of his time in St Germain, Paris.
Departing from pure abstraction, Kim painted Evénement de la nuit (Nighttime Event) (1972), a photo-realistic droplet heavy with potential energy and bright with moonlight on a black background. Kim continued to paint hyperreal droplets—often on abstract or minimalist backgrounds—until his death.
'For me, thinking about transparent water drops is an act of making bad things go away. I've dissolved and erased horrible memories by painting them countless times,' Kim told the Yonhap News Agency in 2016.
Kim was honoured with the French Order of Arts and Letters in 1996 and the National Order of Cultural Merits of Korea in 2012.
Devoted to the artist's life and work, the Kim Tschang-Yeul Museum of Art opened on Jeju Island in 2016. It is currently showing the exhibition Media and Waterdrops, a selection of Kim's water drop paintings on newspaper pages.