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Park Seo-Bo's signature 'Ecriture' series of paintings on view at White Cube
Park Seo-Bo, ZIGZAG Ecriture 1983-1992. White Cube Mason's Yard, London. 20 January - 11 March 2017.

LONDON.- White Cube is presenting its second exhibition by the leading exponent of the Dansaekhwa movement, Park Seo-Bo. This exhibition features Park’s signature ‘Ecriture’ series of paintings, which have remained his focus for the past fifty years. This exhibition focuses on one particular group within the overall series, informally referred to as the ‘zigzag’ paintings, which were produced between the mid-1980s and early 1990s. A number of his most recent ‘Ecriture’ works also are on display.

Park’s work draws on the history of Western abstraction in painting, as well as the tradition of Korean calligraphy, enabled by an introspective methodology that has its origins in Taoist and Buddhist philosophy. Begun in the late 1960s, the ‘Ecriture’ series embrace this spiritual approach and are inextricably linked to notions of time, space and material, concepts which underpin all of the artist’s work. In the early works, Park used repeated pencil lines incised into a still-wet monochromatic painted surface, and the later works expand upon this language through the introduction of hanji, a traditional Korean paper hand-made from mulberry bark, which is adhered to the canvas surface. This development, along with the introduction of colour, enabled an expansive transformation of his practice while continuing the quest for emptiness though reduction.

Park studied Korean brush painting during the Korean War. When he moved to the Western region of Korea he became familiar with the culture of indigenous papers. It was during this time he learned of paper’s inextricable connection to every aspect of domestic life: mulberry paper, for example, is often sealed with oil and used for flooring in traditional Korean houses.

The ‘Ecriture’ works from the 1980s onwards feature several layers of hanji strips soaked with paint and applied to the canvas when the surface is still wet. Using sharp wooden sticks, pieces of iron or sometimes his own hand, he incised it with patterns to create dynamic, diagonal compositions or simple overall grids, adding coloured pigment during the final step. Created from repeated, sustained pressure in the manner of calligraphy, the lines push out the pulp in the paper, contributing to the overall surface texture of the work and enabling a fusion between image and the work’s material, physical composition. Notably, in one of the most monumental works in the exhibition, Ecriture No. 870907 (1987), the artist added to the pigment a powder made from thousands of crushed seashells, which over time give the work a distinctive patina.

‘I think colour, which is organic, can be used as a tool for healing,’ he has said. ‘Images dissolve; I believe in the power of colour itself.’ (1) Though predominantly white, grey or black, in some works Park uses bright, primary colours, allowing pockets of colour from different layers to punctuate the finished surface. In two recent works from 2014 and 2016, he uses bright red pigment and furrowed vertical lines to animate the picture surface. Although the rhythmical, dynamic patterns of the later ‘Ecriture’ paintings might contrast formally to the monochromatic language of the earlier works, ultimately their methodology remains the same and as Lee Yil has observed, all are the product of ‘formative time’, requiring fine technical skill and sustained focus within a limited amount of time.

(1) Lee Yil, ‘Park Seo-Bo’s Ecriture Revisited – On Park Seo-Bo's Solo Exhibition’, 1991

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