Kyung-Youl Yoon’s Paintings:

A Symphonic Variation on Cosmopolitan Universality and the Korean Quintessence

Art is the result of giving shape to the artist’s interior life – to his own personal sensibility, creative imagination, faculty for thinking freely and the depth of emotions. Therefore, an artist can be called the human creator, who challenges the sphere of the divine creator. An artist’s creative idiosyncrasy and individuality give us so much pleasure and satisfaction to approach each unique aesthetic form as well as to the truth of human feelings. On the other hand, since the world of art is allowed to be given unbounded freedom according to each artist’s capability, it requires the most serious kind of quest and endeavors for the artist.

Facing the ever narrowing distance between the East and the West in which all the cultures, national relationships and historical backgrounds increasingly intertwine, the task given to the contemporary artist has been no small responsibility. For any artist, trying to figure out ways to solidify his own stand in a swirl of multiples movements has been the crux of his art, expressed through attitudes, forms and developments. For a Korean artist who struggles to advance into the international scenes with his national identity always in mind, this has been the cardinal take-off point.

Before his settlement in New York last June, Yoon Kyung-Youl had already stayed in Madrid, Spain for seven years, persisting in the private journey toward the thorny path of art. Unlike most of the Korean artists who usually prefer Paris to be the home of his or her aspiration to an artistic career, Yoon chose Spain, which was an extraordinary decision itself.

Although having actively participated in various movements of domestic art circles, Yoon’s contact with the turmoil of every kind of experiment imaginable in the European contemporary art was another awakening. Girding up himself, he first aimed at cosmopolitan universality. With the newly awakened artistic spirit, formative methodology, and the depth of inner expression, he tried to translate the general characteristic of abstract expressionism he had adopted into the aesthetic consciousness of Korean artists or rather the Oriental philosophy and view of nature. Amidst the raging waves of international competition in art, he was determined to realize the quintessence inherent in his native country, which to him, seemed to be the only proper way of identifying what he is as a Korean artist.

After studying at the College of Art, University of Madrid in Spain, Yoon held his first solo exhibition there in 1992. He showed a series of works titled <Intervals of History>, which display abstract expressive forms and shapes done with delicate colors freely overlap or remain afloat on the plane. Sometimes, the expression of an animal quoted from ancient murals or the linear landscape of mysterious images appeared, and at other times, the shape of the Korean porcelain was abruptly introduced with the outline alone, which was an expression of his innermost desire to give concrete shapes to the spirit, history and life he experienced as a Korean artist. In doing so, the self-autonomy and vitality in his brush strokes are inadvertently linked to the discipline of the Oriental traditional calligraphy.

Yoon’s exhibition in Madrid was appreciated as a successful representation of the Korean quintessence in art. In his New York exhibition in 1993, his dedication of how he had been intent on incarnating the Korean style was also displayed. In the <Intervals of History>, he made full use of historical archetypes such as the mountainous shape seen in the mural of the ancient tomb of the Kokuryo Dynasty or the image of a flying horse excavated from art of the Shilla Dynasty. In another of his works, the ‘Guardian Deities of the Royal Ancestral Shrine of Five Hundred Years’ bespoke certain aspects of the Korean history, which both the life-force expressed through the leaves of tree and the symbolic signs provoking the viewer’s speculation created influence for the planes of symphonic harmony between figuration and abstraction.

Another new series titled <Net of Consciousness> were also on display in his New York exhibition. The works show Yoon’s own experience of reality, inner perspective, and sentiment during the trip or certain fragments of imagination were unfolded at liberty, revealing now and then a woman’s nude or the face of a stone image in harmony with dynamic lines, mysterious colors and space.

After holding one more private show in Madrid the following year, Yoon moved to New York with his family, strengthening a new will for another adventure in art. Meanwhile, his works were still in pursuit of the landscape-like abstract expression, with the human face and the figures of the Korean woman dancer inserted in fantastic sub consciousness.

This exhibition in Seoul is to notify the audience of his activities in Madrid and New York to this day. After his departure from Korea, he has already been far on the way toward the international scenes. Yet, his concerns have constantly lied on how to keep the pure representation of the Korean consciousness and the Oriental sensibility. As seen in his recent works in New York, the controlled color of grey with the abstract landscape, which portrays the very inscape of his soul, aptly manifests the substantial development of his art up until now. The hidden clue to his creative originality is hidden underneath the simple and unpretentious plane. By reading his notes that are full of penetrating insight and rich imagination, one is struck with the logical lucidity, which he elucidates through his own art.

Yoon’s recent works that are simplicities with the main tones of black and grey, show a variation on the Indian ink painting in the Orient. The restraint in coloring and the spreading effect of black or grey can be referred to the permeation or infiltration technique of Indian ink painting. With keen interest in the Oriental aesthetics and landscape painting, he seems to have a full understanding of both the ‘formal delienation’, the external realism focusing on the objective expression, and its counterpart, ‘the evocation of inscape’, the internal realism which gives priority to the implied expression. It can easily be seen that Yoon’s own abstract landscape is deeply imbued with such evocation of inscape.

Lee, Koo-Yeol (art critic)