16th June- 15th July
Lee Seung Jio: Back To Black, housed in the Wellside Gallery in Seocho-dong, is one half of a two part exhibition celebrating the 20th anniversary of the death of Korea’s first geometric abstract artist. His style may have developed five decades after Malevich’s ‘Black Square,’ (1913) was premiered, but Lee Seung Jio (1941-1990) is considered to be a very influential figure of modern Korean art.
In Back to Black, 15 works are displayed, all from his ‘Nucleus’ series, for which he is best known. He tirelessly worked on this extensive series from the 1960′s until his death in 1990. The works on display have been completed in two styles. The first is characterised by looking akin to perfectly parallel ripples of cloth. The other seems to depict an arrangement of pipe-like forms, which are similarly arranged perfectly parallel with one another. The colours are dark, hence the name of the exhibition; blues, black and greys, in all but one painting, ‘Nucleus 88-10,’ (1988) which has been executed in creams and browns. All pieces have been completed in oil on canvas or hemp canvas with surgical precision.
When Malevich painted the utterly non objective ‘Black Square,’ (1913), he highlighted the 2D nature of the picture plane and canvas itself, rejecting illusiatory practices of the past. However, despite the abstract forms Lee Seung Jio has used, it is difficult not to compare them to familiar physical forms as noted above. Completed with painstaking rendering, the forms do indeed appear 3D. However, especially where hemp canvas has been used, the rough nature and imperfections in the weave are visible below the thin layers of paint, reminding viewers of the illusiatory nature of the paintings.
The majority of the paintings are framed simply in a black wood surround without glass, rather like a box fitting snugly around the canvas. However, there are a few unframed, in which case, drips of paint which snaked round the sides of the canvases remain visible, testament to the true flat physicality of the materials. ‘Nucleus 80-10,’ (1980), is a large canvas whose 3D illusion fades towards the very edges to similar effect.
I suspect that the illusion shattering aspects of the works which I enjoyed the most- the hint of a human hand and truth to materials, were intended to be covered by frames. For me, they breathe life into otherwise very sterile paintings which look to me sort of like dodgy 80′s CAD designs. Unfortunately, the second half of the exhibition, which was held at Ilju and Seonhwa Gallery and looked at artists who had drawn inspiration from Lee Seung Jio, closes on 9th July. However, there’s still time to check out Back To Black and decide what to make of them for yourself.