Swollen, glistening, and saturated with illusion, the ubiquitous water drop absorbed Kim Tshcang-Yeul throughout his career. The Korean artist, who died earlier this year, was faithful to the seemingly mundane subject matter, choosing to depict the dewy orbs repeatedly after an initial painting in 1972 following his relocation to France. Inspired originally by a water-soaked canvas in his studio, Kim nurtured the viscous element in his hyperrealistic paintings created across nearly five decades. In an essay about the artist’s unending commitment, Dr. Cleo Roberts writes:
It is a tendency that seems to unite many of Korea’s avant-garde who took from Art Informel in the early ‘60s, including Ha Chong-Hyun and Park Seo-Bo. In this generation of artists, there is a ritualistic devotion to a chosen form, process, and, at times, colour. One could venture that, in the context of living in a volatile country ravaged by war, the security of immersion in a singular mode was an empowering choice, and may have been a necessary psychological counterpoint.
Whether depicting a singular pendant-shaped drop or canvas strewn with perfectly round bulbs, each of the oil-based works exhibits a deft approach to shadow and texture. The bloated forms appear to bead on the surface and are imbued with a sense of impermanence: if disturbed by even a small movement, they look as if they could burst or run down the surface.
Gleaming with occasional patches of gold and white, the transparent renderings foster a deeper connection to Taoist principles, in addition to questioning the tension between nature and contemporary life. “The act of painting water drops is to dissolve all things within [these], to return to a transparent state of ‘nothingness,’” Kim said in a statement, noting that his desire was to dissolve the ego. “By returning anger, anxiety, fear, and everything else to ‘emptiness,’ we experience peace and contentment.”
If you’re in London, you can see the first posthumous show Water Drops, which covers Kim’s entire career and features many of the works shown here, at Almine Rech from March 4 to April 10, 2021. Otherwise, head to Artsy to see a larger collection of the artist’s paintings.