Simply Nature 1997
by James C.W.Chae
CHAE, CHANG-WAN'S PAINTINGS
May 27~June 1, 1997
Birla Academy of Art and Culture
108, Southern Avenue, Calcutta - 700 029. INDIA
Simply Nature-Moon & Flower_oil on canvas_1997
TRADITION & MODERNITY IN CHAE CHANG-WAN
The more we learn of the effects of cross-cultural contact under situation of unequal relationship between the contacting parties, in different parts of the globe, the more we become aware of the similarities in the jagged path of cultural development (from the point of contact) the countries and the peoples in similar historical predicament have had to traverse. They all had to pass through similar stages of cultural development from the point of contact. At long last when they arrive at some kind of elements from the Western art since Renaissance, despite their apparent “international” look they look different; they even look typical and “national”. Is it because countries and peoples, with long histories of ideology of culture, develop in the arts certain perceptive features which persistently refer back to aspects of cultural ideology? It is this factor that gives particularistic identity to the art of a people or a country. While high Modernism has always denied this in the name of universal values, Post-modernism has been using this natural tendency as one of its arguments against Modernism.
Simply Nature-Untitled #3. oil,stone-powder on canvas. 75.5x91cms. 1997.
A case in point is the emphases on left-out, that is non-image, space in modern painting of the Far-Eastern countries. This emphasis, on left-out space as the main structural element, comes into modern Far-Eastern painting from a long tradition. one may argue that the Modernist art of the West also puts a premium on the spatial aspect of painting. There is however, a subtle difference between the two kinds of emphases. In the Modernist painting of the West the picture space is a two-dimensional pictorial surface in which the image-filled space has no difference with the image-less filled up with colors, tones and textures, whereas in the Far-Eastern modern art the image-less space is hardly ever a color field, to be noticed for its color only. This attitude to pictorial space is the resultant of a persistent ideology of culture. Unlike in the pre-Modern European art, in traditional Far-Eastern art the pictorial space had never wholly been spaces representing phenomenal or natural space, those had also been pictorial elements to posit images in different grounds and strata. Left out picture space in traditional Far-Eastern art depends upon this and such other continuities. The paintings of Chae Chang-Wan (born: February 8, 1967), from the Republic of Korea, provide excellent evidence of ruptures and continuities which go into the making of modern art in non-Western societies with long history of cultural ideology disrupted by hegemonistic cross-cultural interventions.
Simply Nature-Seeking for the Longest. oil,stone-powder on canvas. 77.5x20cms(4pieces). 1996.
Chae Chang-Wan graduated in painting from the Chugye College of Art of Seoul in the Republic of Korea in 1994 and moved over to Kala-Bhavana of Visva-Bharati in Santiniketan for his Masters degree in Fine Arts (Painting), which he has taken creditably this year. Santiniketan made him conscious about the necessity of regarding cultural tradition as a prime source of appropriation for creation of a modern art with an identity and maintenance of continuity amidst change, This consciousness led him to write a thought provoking dissertation on the philosophy of Far-Eastern landscape painting and its continued relevance.
Simply Nature-Bird and Jar with Flower and Fish. oil,stone-powder on canvas. 76x76cms(2pieces). 1997.
The small paintings in oils on paper and canvas which Chae has painted during his two year stint in Santiniketan are no less interesting. In a formal sense, these paintings are minimalist. Flatly colored detailess pictorial spaces, enclosed by flowing contour lines, indicate highly stylized and stressed images of single lonely members of the reptile (lizards mostly), canine and cat families and scaring masks which hide human faces. The line-enclosed flat image-spaces and leftout spaces are equally flat, equally divided and have the same hue values and tonal brilliance as the background spaces. In other words, segments of space inside the linear enclosures and outside look like color fields of equal pictorial value. Due to the lines which enclose each segment of space, each color field segment takes on a geometric character, mostly rectangular or squarish. Since lines going round the color field segments make the line enclosed color flats images of animals and masks, the latter appear as geometric beings. But not quite so. Chae’s lines are so organic and animated and he makes the limb-ends like fingers, tails, ears even teeth so biomorphic and so gesticulating that the wholes of the minimalist geometric images come alive. Nothing is there in the tradition of the Modern of the West that collapses the geometric and the organic into a fusion; these two remain separated as Wolfgang Worringer had observed. The non-separation of the animate and inanimate has its roots in the Eastern mentality and thought. Yet, Chae’s positing of line enclosed two-dimensional geometric space, on flat surface, and his simplistic eduction of figural images into combination of contour lines and geometric shapes are strangely reminiscent of great Paul Klee.
Simply Nature-Cycle and I #3. oil,stone-powder on canvas. 129x162.5cms. 1997.
Even though Chae’s paintings reminds one of Paul Klee, at times, in one respect they are different from Kiee’s. It is where the animate and inanimate play with each other in Chae’s works. Chae often elongates his animal image, makes his mask like faces – grimacing. Even though Chae carefully constructs his contour lines and limb-ends to give them organismic existence, in his elongation of image no such motive can be detected. In Chae’s case such deviation from standard figure cannot be taken as ｅxpressionistic distortion. Most often than not with Chae, such figural distortion is a decorative strategy in the best sense of Far-Eastern art. Yet, in Chae’s paintings these do not signify a fall back upon a traditional devise. This is where Chae’s paintings these do not signify a fall back upon a traditional devise. This is where Chae demands our attention as a serious artist. What he still lacks is the subtle finesse of the traditional Far-Eastern art. But he shows all promise of overcoming that with practice, experience and what the Japanese call Zen and we Indians call dhyan. ■
10th May 1997
68/4A, Purna Das Road,
Simply Nature-Cycle and I #2. oil,stone-powder on canvas. 76x76cms. 1997.
Simply Nature-Jockey #3. oil,stone-powder on canvas. 101.5x101.5cms. 1997.
Simply Nature-Surprise Not #2. oil on canvas. 129x162.5cms. 1996.
Simply Nature-Tiktiki. oil,stone-powder on canvas. 101.5x101.5cms. 1997.
Simply Nature-Untitled #1. oil on canvas. 128.5x128.5cms. 1997.
Simply Nature-Untitled #2. oil on canvas. 128.5x128.5cms. 1997.
Anandbazaar Patrica, June 21. 1997
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