He is an artist concerned with method.
Ha Chonghyun is a leading figure of Tansaekhwa, the Korean Monochrome Movement. Known for their manipulation of materials – soaked canvases, ripped paper, or pushed paint – Tansaekhwa artists remain dedicated to the monochromatic palette. Chonghyun is no exception. The nature of the canvas and the subtly in paint’s materiality is at the core of his practice.
With his debut exhibition at New York’s Blum & Poe Gallery this winter, his first in North America, Ha Chonghyun led viewers through his precise methodology in nine paintings. In each, he used coarsely woven canvases in which he pushed oil paint across them with a palette knife. The result is a display of rigid geometry, yet nuanced layering of texture and line.
The painting Conjunction 09-52 (2009) is perhaps the greatest example of this technique. On top of the beige canvas, the artist pushed large streaks of light grey paint. The result is the illusion of paintbrush bristles or even frozen water, where the streaks’ ends gather into thick, elegant clumps. It is breathtaking.
In another, Conjunction 79-11 (1979), two brown hues divide the canvas in half. A gap at the canvas’ base reveals a thick horizontal stripe across its bottom. Despite the canvas’ simplicity, the painting is transfixing. Each color meets the other seamlessly – their union symbolic and yet fully literal.
Indeed, Ha Chonghyun’s ability to create emotion out of strict construction is where his brilliance lies. Each of the tiny gaps visible between brushstrokes imbue the paintings with a sense of air that allow them to breathe. Constriction and openness – strictness and its possibilities – that is what Tansaekhwa and Ha Chonghyun understand so intimately.
Ha Chonghyun was born in Sancheong, Korea, in 1935, and currently lives and works in Seoul. He graduated from the Department of Painting, Hongik University, Seoul, in 1959. Since then, he has had numerous solo exhibitions in Korea, including at the Gyeongnam Art Museum, Changwon and the Chosunilbo Museum of Art, Seoul. In 2012, the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Gwacheon, held a major retrospective. His work has also been included in landmark surveys, such as Dansaekhwa: Korean Monochrome Painting, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Gwacheon, 2012; The Spectrum of Contemporary Korean Art, Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, Kaohsiung, Taiwan, 2011; Korean Abstract Art 1958–2008, Seoul Museum of Art, 2008; the 45th Biennale di Venezia, Italy, 1993; Hiroshima, Hiroshima City Museum of Modern Art, Hiroshima, Japan, 1989.
All photographs courtesy of Blum & Poe.