YHK. Umber-Blue, 1974,

Work of Yun Hyong-keun comes to Hastings Contemporary

His practice centering on the gate of heaven and earth, with blue representing the colour of heaven and umber the colour of earth, it resonates with Hastings Contemporary’s location. The gallery stands on the Old Town’s Stade, looking out onto the differing shades of blue of the expansive sky and sea. This is further reflected by the exhibition’s opening sequence of paintings; a small group of umber and ultramarine works from the early 1970s. 

The show then continues by exploring the genesis of ‘the gate of heaven and earth’. Several works display its gradual widening until it almost disappears with the closing work – from the year of Yun’s death in 2007 – realised in Burnt Umber and Ultramarine Blue (1999 and 2007), in which ‘heaven’ is now almost completely suppressed by ‘earth’.

The concept of silence created by Yun’s work, particularly through the interpretation of gates or portals as voids, has the effect of turning the gallery space into a chapel or temple.

YHK. No Title, 1972, Oil on cotton, 126×94.7cm

The window onto the Old Town is veiled, as are the skylights, to enhance the meditative power of the individual paintings. This allows the viewer to be absorbed by the subtle range of tones, which on closer examination reveal the mix of ultramarine and umber through the blending of the two colours. And while the gate in each of the works from the 1970s absorbs the eye, the two late works Burnt Umber & Ultramarine Blue (1999 and 2007), with their narrowing portals place the emphasis back on earth, into which the artist himself would eventually be absorbed. 

In the aftermath of the Korean War (1950–1953), the country found itself effectively isolated from the rest of the world’s art markets and movements. This led South Korean artists to create their own sets of rules derived from the Korean tradition and creative parameters in the field of abstraction, with a group including Yun founding the Dansaekhwa movement. 

From 1973, he began to establish a distinctive style of his own, with his work not only informed by nature but also by the scholar and calligrapher Chusa Kim Jeong-hui. He also engaged with Western art– such as his 2-year relocation to Paris with his family in the early 1980s and his encounter with Donald Judd (1928-1994) in 1991. He used these influences to create his signature palette of umber – the colour of the earth – and ultramarine – the colour of heaven – to create rectilinear compositions, reminiscent of traditional East Asian ink-wash paintings. Using pigment diluted with turpentine, Yun would spend days, weeks even months layering the paint down to create fields of intense darkness. This process effectively creates a physical sense of time, with the artist’s different returns to the canvas to layer more pigment resulting in blurred edges along its outer edges.

“Our gallery strives to show the very best of modern and contemporary art whilst also being one of the greenest galleries in the UK,” says Hastings Contemporary Director, Liz Gilmore.

“The inspirational presence of Yun’s retrospective on the occasion of the 58th edition of the Venice Art Biennale gave momentum to our thinking and planning to bring Yun to Hastings. The exhibition will focus on Yun’s stunning and reflective umber and ultramarine paintings, which makes such a fitting juxtaposition with our location between land and sea.”

YHK. Untitled ’93-23, 1993, Oil on linen, 227.2×162.1cm

Although he is less well-known outside of his native South Korea, Yun Hyong-keun’s career and contribution to the Dansaekhwa movement during the sixties have begun to attract fresh interest internationally. His paintings’ combination of performative, rhythmic strokes, meditative qualities, and monochromatic aspects represent a contrast to Western Minimalism and works by artists such as Agnes Martin or Rothko’s Abstract Expressionism. A point the Hastings Contemporary show demonstrates, with Yun’s paintings reflecting his own culture while sparking comparisons with key artists in the canon of 20th century American and European abstraction.

For more information about Hastings Contemporary, and the work of Yun Hyong-keun, visit www.hastingscontemporary.org 

You may also be interested in Keira Thomas’ exhibition, Out of The Artist at Worthing Museum

Zeen is a next generation WordPress theme. It’s powerful, beautifully designed and comes with everything you need to engage your visitors and increase conversions.