Thaddaeus Ropac brings together two generations of artists whose works explore new forms of abstraction
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Thaddaeus Ropac brings together two generations of artists whose works explore new forms of abstraction
Wook-Kyung Choi, Untitled, c. 1960s. Acrylic on canvas, 107 x 86 x 2.5 cm (42.13 x 33.86 x .98 in).

PARIS.- ‘Saturation’ refers to the expressive power of colour: in colour theory it describes the highest degree of a colour’s intensity. Saturation also evokes our contemporary condition, characterised by the overflow of information and a feeling of emotional and mental overload, which, according to the sociologist Monique Haicault, particularly affects women. The exhibition thus chooses to present the work of women artists, decentring abstraction from a historically male-dominant perspective.

Wook-Kyung Choi’s forceful, rhythmic compositions from the 1960s are influenced by Korean Art Informel and American Abstract Expressionism. Line and colour surge on her canvases to create uprising movements that demonstrate the artist’s emotional sensitivity and her social conscience. Choi was involved in the anti-war and anti-racist social movements in the United States in the 1960s and spoke about the difficulty of finding a place for herself as an exiled painter in a male-dominated artistic circle.

Both my paintings and my poems are about my life, but I am not simply telling stories. I am trying to express, visually and verbally , my experience of the moment lived. I hope to share, to communicate, and to create an empathy for the experience. — Wook-Kyung Choi, 1970s

wish to be a little
pebble! […]
Quietly sitting on my knees on the beach,
I shall learn the weeping of the waves rolling in,
and learn the wrath of the raging storm!
I shall descend deep into the sea!
Descend deep into the sea!

Wook-Kyung Choi, published in her collection Like Unfamiliar Faces, 1972

Choi would sometimes include her own poems in her paintings, as well as newspaper headlines and sayings such as ‘who is the winner of this bloody war’ or ‘careless bitch’, referencing the political and social context of the time. Choi would often express her support of the women’s liberation movement: ‘So far, women have regarded themselves through the critical eyes of men. That is why I am glad that we have more women in the profession of art these days’ (1979).

One of the common threads between the different artists on view is their strong connection to poetry, literature and music, whether it is in the process and manner of painting or as source material. The impulse to express through paint combines with reflections on language, giving way to new forms of lyrical abstraction. — Exhibition curator, Oona Doyle

Immersed in newspaper, latex, and silkscreened images, El-Sayegh’s installation centres around a painted platform roughly the size of a solitary confinement cell. A remnant of her performances, this work points to an absent body, enclosed in a bruised palette and translucent textures. To enter the installation, visitors must step onto the painted platform, providing a sense of carceral enclosure. Display becomes a mode of agency, allowing invisible bodies to make themselves legible.

In her installation and paintings, Mandy El-Sayegh deconstructs linguistic codes, incorporating sources ranging from newsprint headlines and poetry to Chinese and Arabic calligraphy. Including words such as ‘Orchard’ and ‘Sea Breeze’ that correspond to military operation names, the artist institutes a layering process that reveals how context is diluted through social wordplay.

I think of abstraction as a point at which you approach through process, through a layering process rather than a gestural action. So starting off with something very specific, very figurative, very contingent and very literal, you approach a point of diffusion. And that to me is the point of abstraction. Through an addition of layers you get to a point of having less legibility, and you are left with more of a feeling, more of a movement, more like a remnant of some actions. — Mandy El-Sayegh

Rachel Jones brings colours to their full intensity with her vibrant palette, electrified by her hatching-like lines and textures drawn with oil pastels and oil sticks. Her paintings allow not only for a powerful and emotional aesthetic experience, but also for an exploration of the politics of colour. By colouring the whiteness of teeth with her prismatic palette, Jones seems to counter the dominance of whiteness in the history of painting.

How does each artist absorb and transform the world around them? How do they react to virtual and urban environments, marked by an economy of attention? A point of saturation is the moment that precedes and triggers overflow. This instant can be identified in the tension and repetitions present in the compositions on display, their condensed and poetic dimension, the superimpositions of paint and materials as well as their chromatic explorations. — Exhibition curator, Oona Doyle

For Han Bing, ‘painting is a way of resisting the information that is forced on us’. She deconstructs pictorial reality in her work, opening up new dimensions and gradually moving towards abstraction. Having recently settled in Paris, she is inspired by the textures and patterns that appear in the city, especially the ‘errors’ and ‘glitches’ generated by ripped posters. She carefully works each canvas with oil paint, playing with the combination of colours, adding spray paint, integrating accidental lines, letting the dynamic of the work guide the composition.

Megan Rooney explores how colours are associated with memory, and how they can be employed to convey shifts between contrasting emotions. Her paintings seem to absorb her surroundings with heightened sensitivity. The artist states: ‘Every painting made is affected by the temperature of the light, the colours of the sky on that particular day.’ This meteorological aspect is reflected in ‘the innumerable phases that each painting goes through’. Her palette, which includes soft hues that reference North American suburbia, domestic space and gardens, playfully re-appropriates normalised codes of femininity.

Martha Jungwirth’s compositions on brown paper demonstrate the artist’s eruptive style and distinctive colour palette composed of vermilion, pink and purple. In the 1960s, Jungwirth was the only woman in the Viennese collective Wirklichkeiten (Realities). Since then, she has continued to develop an innovative visual language marked by her exploration of colour and her incisive lines. To create her works, which are poised between chance and calculation, Jungwirth draws on political events, literature and Greek mythology, which become triggers for fleeting impulses.

Jungwirth compares her paintings to a diary, describing them as ‘seismograms of inner states’. She also records these impressions in her Malbuch (Paintbook) (2020s) in which her gestural strokes further highlight the connections between writing and painting.

Thu-Van Tran investigates colonial history through the literature of Marguerite Duras, Joseph Conrad and Albert Camus to explore the links between identity and language. In these new works she creates symbolic connections between colours and historical events.

Working with painting but also sculpture, video and installation, Thu-Van Tran investigates the concepts of contamination, identity and language, particularly in the context of the colonial history of her native Vietnam. For her Colours of Grey series Tran appliers layers of white, pink, blue, green, purple and orange. This colour combination is a reference to the ‘rainbow herbicides’ that the US forces used in the Vietnam War.

Sprayed from planes and helicopters, the highly toxic chemicals ate through the dense forest, killing hundreds of thousands of residents in affected areas and contaminating nature and the food base of the population for decades. The consequences of the chemical defoliant are still enormous today: widespread poisoning of the environment and damage to the health of around one million Vietnamese.

Dona Nelson’s recent two-sided Stain Paintings are exhibited on stands in the Pantin space rather than hung on the wall, allowing for a sculptural view of painting. Working en plein air, Nelson paints on both sides of the canvas, using buckets of paint, spatulas and high pressure hoses as well as cheesecloth. Subtle patterns emerge from the repeated soaking of water and paint. Although the strokes seem gestural, they are indirect, emerging primarily from the materials. For Nelson, ‘the image is in the canvas’.

The dizzying effect of Nelson’s two-sided paintings brings to mind the sensory overload of living in a city. — Poet and art critic John Yau

Abstraction is a process of transformation of the world where the references to visible reality are indirect or deconstructed. Through their conceptual and sensory exploration of colour, their reflection on language and their expression of social and critical views, the artists exhibited in Saturation filter and transform a reality marked by dispersal and overload. Rather than ‘extract’ or ‘simplify’, the concept of saturation allows us to look at abstraction as a way to intensify.

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