2017.10
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  • Redefining Korean Color in Monochrome

▲ Park Seo Bo, “Ecriture No. 031219,” 2003, Mixed Media with Korean Paper on Canvas, 182×228cm Courtesy of Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art

▲ Park Seo Bo, “Ecriture No. 031219,” 2003, Mixed Media with Korean Paper on Canvas, 182×228cm Courtesy of Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art

Redefining Korean Color in Monochrome

For centuries, colors have been an integral part of Korean culture. The nation’s appreciation of color is revealed through its multihued signature dish, bibimbap, and the brightly-colored traditional clothing, Hanbok. In the Korean art world, a particular style has been reshaping the understanding of color. Dasnsaekhwa is a contemporary Korean art movement that first developed in the 1970s, and its works have played a key role in shaping the nation’s modern art history. For nearly four decades, dasnsaekhwa artists have challenged the usage and interpretation of color in Korean art and culture.

Abstract Expression of Turmoil

Dasnsaekhwa means “monochrome painting” in Korean, but the style represents more than singular-color paintings. The intentional usage of colors captures the united approach and spirit of the artists. During the post-war era of the 1970s, Korean artists began producing works to process their internal turmoil. The resultant expressions were paintings characterized by limited colors and meditative images.
  One of most notable dasnsaekhwa artists is Park Seo-bo. In his Écriture series, he lays out single colors on the canvas and draws or brushes repeatedly over the wet surface to create natural textures. Through this technique, the artist uses color as a tool to express his dissatisfaction of society and release his anguish.
  Another first-generation dasnsaekhwa artist, Kim Guiline applies a repetitive painting process to his body of work. For example, in his “Inside, Outside” series the viewer only sees red, yellow, green, or white at first glance. However, each color block consists of multiple squares that are filled in through repetitive strokes. Both invisible and visible lines coexist to form obscure shapes that reflect the yin and yang, and female and male.

Navigating the Times through Color

Dasnsaekhwa was birthed at the brink of Korea’s economic boom and progress towards democracy. Its creators explored a timely spectrum of emotion and thought by colliding colors and textures in abstract formations. By doing so, they offered a space for its viewers to grieve the historical traumas and dream of a brighter future.
  In the 21st century, dasnsaekhwa evolved to reflect the changing times in modern Korea. Ha Chong-Hyun’s Conjunction series (1974–2009), an extensive collection of paintings consisting of earthy muted tones and materials like burlap and hemp cloth, evoked the colors of Korea’s widely loved soybean paste soup or burlap houses in the countryside. After 2010, Ha began incorporating primary colors in his Post Conjunction series. Instead of focusing on a neutral palette, these paintings captured all the colors of the rainbow. Through a simple transformation of colors, the artist shifted from telling of the trauma and limitations of post-war Korea to conveying the hopeful possibilities of the modern time.
  In recent years, dasnsaekhwa art has been sharing Korean colors and culture with a global audience. In 2014, its works gained notable international exposure at the Blum & Poe gallery in Los Angeles. Since then, dasnsaekhwa artists continue to expand their territory in the international art scene. Through a new way of expressing color, dasnsaekhwa ultimately documents the spirit of Korea’s post-modern experience. Though its expression may have evolved with time, its essence will continue to speak for Korea’s history and future.


Written by Diana Park


▲ Kim Guiline, “Inside, Outside,” 1980, Oil on Canvas, 195×130cm Courtesy of Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art

▲ Kim Guiline, “Inside, Outside,” 1980, Oil on Canvas, 195×130cm Courtesy of Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art