As society faces a plethora of problems and affects every individual’s life, minimalism has become a term describing a life style that a lot of people choose these days. Demanding us to be civilized, our society makes us chase superficial images of success, such as a big house, a shiny automobile, and a stable job that don’t actually guarantee the true happiness. Seeking for the meaning of their life, people adopt the life style of minimalism, in which they reduce empty formalities and vanity to keep the essence of their life only. For the sake of the better life, ironically, some people abandon their house and embark on a journey while others donate all of their clothes to the poor except 33 items needed. Some people even hold an outdoor rally to teach how to live a minimal life and why it is essential these days. Even in the aspect of religion, people try to pursue the essence of their faith only, reconsidering about the question of what a religion really is.
Minimalism is an art movement that began strongly with American visual arts in the 1960s as a reaction against abstract expressionism. Famous artists of minimalism include Donald Judd, John McCracken, Agnes Martin, Dan Flavin, Robert Morris, Frank Stella, etc. It derives from the reductive aspects of modernism like the Russian painter Kazimir Malevich made his painting, ‘The Black Square’ in 1915. It seems interesting that a French artist, one of the pioneers of minimalism, Yves Klein, made his blue painting, ‘IKB (International Klein Blue) 191’ in 1962, reminiscent of a deep blue metamorphic rock, ‘lapis’, a pigment used for the clothing of the Virgin Mary in the old masters’ painting. As forensic detail proves that ‘The Black Square’ was painted over a more complex and colorful composition, artworks of minimalism have a lot to say to us whatever the intention that the artist has. Is it true that minimalism is about eliminating any unnecessary elements to keep the essence only? What should minimalism art in this age be like if post minimalism refers to various artworks influenced by the aesthetic of minimalism?
An American painter, Frank Stella said that he could use paints for free in his school, and a picture was a flat surface with paint on it, nothing more like the way that the American action painter, Jackson Pollock worked on his painting. Utilizing the formal properties of shape, color, and composition to explore non-literary narrative, however, he creates a geometry that has a narrative impact. Including his black paintings, he has explored in lots of mediums, such as computer design, 3D printing, etc. His works tell us that minimalism is beyond the concept of simplicity. It is more about the objectivity gained through the artist’s emotion and practices. An American philosopher, Arthur Danto distinguished post-minimalism from minimalism by its mirth and jokiness, its unmistakable whiff of eroticism, and its non-mechanical repetition. A German-born American sculptor, Eva Hesse’s work, ‘Contingent’ explains about certain features of post-minimalism like ‘anti-form’ describing the resistance to uniformity. Keeping some of the defining forms of minimalism and unconventional materials, she created eccentric work that was repetitive and labor-intensive. Indeed, her work is about both simplicity and complexity. Not only has the complex legacy of minimalism been reflected in today’s artists’ works, but it has also changed life style of many people in this age. An artist, Eunji An studied art in Germany for a long time. Her artworks have a lot of influences of German Expressionism. While her previous works are about capturing emotional images through her quick drawing and watery painting, in her recent works, she tries to focus more on the colors and atmosphere of her subject matter, so that she could express the essence of it in her own pictorial manner. There is only a brush between a painter and the painting, and, in her case, it is a wild dance of paints squeezed from a tube, rollers and wide brushes. After all, the essence of her painting lies on the process of making her painting, which explains that, in a way, minimalism is all about a good attitude.
Milky Way, Acrylic on canvas, 33.4x24.2cm, Eunji An, 2019
An artist, Sookkyung Jang tells us about the harmony with nature through her work of art. Her artwork looks peaceful and sophisticated, however, it seems to have a movement in its stillness. She tries to focus on the process of making her artwork, rather than the result of it, expressing both simplicity and complexity of nature, the calm echoes of it.
지난 여름, 57x76cm, Mixed media, Sookkyung Jang, 2005
There is another artist, Inhee Jeong who works mostly in Daegu and Jeju. She uses language as a means of her visual expression like an American artist, Bruce Nauman who installed a neon sign of a phrase, ‘The True Artist Helps the World by Reavealing Mystic Truths’ in an abandoned grocery store. She has exhibited a series of paintings and objects that show the element of typography at a renovated art space that once used to be an apartment housing tobacco factory workers. She locks herself up in her studio that often feels like a cell and fills her day transcribing her old diaries, her favorite book and others as if trying to hold time that is gone. Through her subconscious act of writing in the cell of her mind, she explores various ways of conveying it visually. Her recent work is about the look of a book expressed with various colors and forms, through which she examines the meaning of a written language as a visual image.
Red Book, 54x46cm, Acrylic on tinplate, expoxy, text drawing, Inhee Jeong, 2019
An artist, Cheon’s artworks have various influences of other artists’ works, however, they have his own visual elements that connect each other subtly, featuring people who have an uneasy look, fluorescent colored flowers in his peculiar, touching color combination and his way of improvisation. He works fast in his own rhythmical sense, which makes the viewer wonder what he really wants to depict on his canvas. His subject matter, for which he doesn’t care about describing it representationally, is a visual medium that initiates the magic and evolves into a new thing in the process of making his painting. I wonder what aspect of the forest he expresses when making his forest painting. His quick brushstrokes and the paint marks left on his canvas are about his gesture that pretends his indifference in his subject matter while it is actually about the embodiment of his strong emotion.
청둥오리, Drawing on paper, 15.5x10.5cm, Cheon, 2019
As if practicing asceticism, an artist Hyunsil Choi repeats the process of drawing and erasing on her paper. Under the subject, ‘Memory’, she tries to document the trace of her fear and trauma. Her painting tells the viewer about the continuity of time through the act of making or erasing a painting, the accumulation of lots of lines and paint marks. It is a representation of her memories embedded in her subconscious that changes from moment to moment. There is a beautiful sense of light and weight in her painting, the way she accumulates the materials of her painting that, somehow, reflects her state of emotion.
Space No.2, Oil stick on canvas, 53x45cm, Hyunsil Choi, 2019
A Korean painter, Jian Hur works in Daegu, Korea, creating paintings that feature various shades of colors. Her painting seems to prove what the American painter, Brice Marden said about painting, “A painting is about transformation. It turns the paints, the dirty material, the heavy earthen kind of thing into air and light” Like him, she seems to use her painting as a means of escaping to a place where her own order and rules exist, expressing her own thoughts of religion.
Untitled, Acrylic on canvas, 116.8x91.0cm, Jian Hur, 2019
The participating artists of the exhibition, ‘The Ultimate Minimalist’, reflect the history of minimalism in their artwork. However, they evolve minimalism in their own way. They seem to appeal to us that minimalism is not just about simplicity. It is more about an artist’s complicated story expressed in the simple form of minimalism.
A lot of people think that Dansaekhwa represents Korean minimalism art. However, these six artists tell us more about minimalism of Korea, which is beyond the visual arts. It is a big wave that makes us realize ourselves through the journey of finding the essence of life.
- Realti Art Space Yoonkyung Kim