“Untitled,” Ca. 1980 by Kwon Young-Woo

By: Alicia Bojkov

Lot 41 – Kwon Young-Woo (1926-2013), UNTITLED, CA. 1980. Gouache and ink on Korean mulberry paper; seal upper left; signed in pencil in Korean and Roman verso. 33.9 x 44.1 in — 86 x 112 cm. Estimate $25,000-$35,000

Kwon Young-Woo balances tradition and modernism in his expressive works on paper. Using kanji – Korean mulberry paper – as the basis of his practice, Kwon’s work focuses on materiality and the medium’s connection to Korean culture and history. A member of the first class to graduate from Seoul National University in Fine Arts in 1951, Kwon gained recognition in the 1960s as he began exhibiting works in the Dansaekhwa style, also referred to as the Korean monochrome movement.

Kwon’s monochromatic works, such as Untitled, ca. 1980, primarily use ink, further recalling the historied calligraphy practice in Korean and Asian art. The monochromatic inks absorb and amplify the imperfections of the paper, thus creating a three-dimensionality that can be likened to scarring, a visceral concept for many Koreans who recently experienced the horrors of the Korean War (1950-1953) and the resulting splintering of cultural identity.

As writer and Professor of Critical Studies, John Yau, notes, “It seems to me that Young-Woo wounds the paper, as well as registers both its durability and its irreparable damage. The cuts cannot be “healed” without scarring. When pale blue ink bleeds through the mulberry paper, around a puncture, the association with wounds is deepened. In some of the works it is hard not to connect the paper to the human body, the blank surface on which the everyday world has left its mark.”[1] This thread would run throughout his career and in his later works; Kwon would further manipulate the medium by cutting and removing sections of the paper – going beyond the physical damage of trauma and referencing the sometimes irreparable damage to the psyche.

In Untitled, circa 1980, the viewer can map the gentle creasing of the paper throughout the work highlighting the delicate, corporal nature of kanji. The organic character of the medium is further enhanced by Kwon’s careful application of indigo, creating the ideal environment for the ink to follow the peaks and valleys of the paper – ultimately delineating the life cycle or experience of a culture and material.

About the auction

Our spring auction of Canadian and International Fine Art held online from May 24-29, 2024, brings together exceptional work from around the world. This auction features celebrated Canadian artists such as Cornelius Krieghoff, A.Y. Jackson, P.C. Sheppard, A.J. Casson, Bertram Booker, Alexandra Luke, Jean Paul Lemieux and Yves Gaucher as well as important First Nations artists Norval Morrisseau, Roy Thomas and Alex Janvier. International highlights include work by Jules Olitski, Karel Appel, Kwon Young-Woo, Norman Bluhm, Józef Bakoś, Léon Lhermitte and Montague Dawson.

View the gallery and browse the downloadable digital catalogue.

Previews will be available at our Toronto gallery, located at 275 King Street East, Second Floor, Toronto:

 Thursday, May 23 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
 Friday, May 24 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
 Saturday, May 25 from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm
 Sunday, May 26 from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm
 Monday, May 27 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
 Tuesday, May 28 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm

Or by appointment.

Please contact us to find out more.

[1] John Yau, Abstractions That Record the Scars of Trauma, Hyperallergic, 19 April 2022, https://hyperallergic.com/724214/abstractions-that-record-the-scars-of-trauma/

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