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(Yonhap Interview) Artist seeks soul-searching, freedom in monochrome paintings

All Headlines 16:32 February 28, 2018

By Woo Jae-yeon

SEOUL, Feb. 28 (Yonhap) -- Artist Yoon Yang-ho has had a few "breakthrough" moments in his life. One such moment came in 1991 when he, a junior in university, was staying in a small temple for about 80 days.

"I realized no one, not even my professors, could answer my questions about what creativity or art is," Yoon told Yonhap News Agency during an interview at Gallery Bisunjae in Seoul on Tuesday.

At the temple, all worldly concerns seemed to disappear. Rather than obsessing with producing good pieces of artwork, he spent a lot of time focusing on himself and meditating.

"The stay (at the temple) didn't give me an answer either, but it helped clear my head."

This image provided by Gallery Bisunjae in Seoul on Feb. 28, 2018, shows the artist Yoon Yang-ho. (Yonhap)
This image provided by Gallery Bisunjae in Seoul on Feb. 28, 2018, shows part of a painting from Yoon Yang-ho's "Zeit Geist" series. (Yonhap)

Another moment, an earth-shattering one for him, came in 1994 when he was joining a group exhibition in Seoul after graduation.

It didn't take long before his pride as a young artist was completely shattered. Professors and senior artists who visited the show scoffed at his Zen-themed work, a large-scale series of monochrome paintings on canvas.

"It was a really shocking experience for me. I worked up a lot of courage to make it. I worked really hard," he recalled. But the episode didn't take away his confidence and faith in what he was doing.

"I thought I needed to look for the right 'soil' for my art to take root and bear fruit," he said.

This image provided by Gallery Bisunjae in Seoul on Feb. 28, 2018, shows a 2017 painting by the artist Yoon Yang-ho. (Yonhap)
This image provided by Gallery Bisunjae in Seoul on Feb. 28, 2018, shows part of a painting from painter Yoon Yang-ho's "Zeit Geist" series. (Yonhap)

Two years later, he went to the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf in Germany, where he received his master's and doctor's degrees in art.

Germany, the artist said, embraced his art centered around the philosophical teaching of Zen, which pursues complete freedom by discarding already-acquired knowledge and experiences and thinking outside the box.

"Zen is about accepting that what I believe to be true could be wrong. When you stick to your own viewpoint, you easily make an error of judgment."

This image provided by Gallery Bisunjae in Seoul on Feb. 28, 2018, shows one of the artist Yoon Yang-ho's paintings from the "Zeit Geist" series. (Yonhap)

After he came back to Korea in 2003, he helped found the Department of Dhyana Fine Art at Wonkwang University in Iksan, North Jeolla Province. Since 2005, he's taught at the university.

The artist has recently, and somewhat belatedly, gained recognition as an important painter of "Dansaekhwa," or Korean monochrome paintings.

Dansaekhwa emerged in the late '60s and refers to a loose group of non-figurative paintings expressed in minimal colors, through which artists sought meditation and self-examination by engaging in repetitive patterns and imagery.

The first generation of Dansaekhwa painters includes Kim Whan-ki, Lee Ufan, Cho Yong-ik, Chung Chang-sup, Kim Guiline and Park Seo-bo, to name a few. Their artworks generally fetch high prices at art auctions in and out of Korea.

Yoon's solo exhibition titled "Dansaekhwa" is set to open Thursday at Gallery Bisunjae. It has been curated by art critic Yoon Jin-sup, who also curated a Dansaekhwa-themed group exhibition at Leeahn Gallery in January.

The artist Yoon Yang-ho stands in front of one of his painting series in 1994 in this photo provided by Gallery Bisunjae in Seoul. (Yonhap)

The 52-year-old artist emphasized that art is not about showing off expressive skills but about sharing with others an artist's inner world and beliefs.

"Of course artists should give attention to what's happening around them. But more importantly, they've got to reflect on themselves and figure out their own individual artistic world. Otherwise, artists only play the role of shadow."

jaeyeon.woo@yna.co.kr
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