Tradition meshes with minimalism

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Tradition meshes with minimalism

Minimalism has not had a large fanbase among Korean art aficionados, except for some selective names such as Lee Ufan. The artistic style is sometimes viewed as too contemporary, too Western, and too conceptual to suit the tastes of traditionally-bound critics and patrons in Korea. For Choi Sun-ho, 46, a professor of Traditional Arts and Crafts at the Korean National University of Cultural Heritage, minimalism is a modern passion that he has embraced wholeheartedly with his traditional tastes. His latest solo exhibition, titled “I Paint, therefore I am,” is an attempt to reconcile Koreanness with contemporary Minimalist art.
At Gallery Yeh in Sinsa-dong, Mr. Choi’s rectangular paintings (both acrylic and oil works) of chromatic and vibrant colors are displayed on the walls. The paintings have neatly lined, colorful squares within, using colors such as indigo, crimson, mauve, green and various shades of blue. They are a distinct contrast to the cool and simple colors used in Western Minimalist paintings. The colors of Choi’s works exude warmth and radiance, which, along with the geometric lines, reminds one of a multi-hued Joseon hanbok or traditional patchworks. But one visitor had a more recent era in mind, exclaiming, “They are like Etro colors!”
“Since 1999, I’ve devoted much of my energy into studying colors,” Mr. Choi. “I’ve moved from using monotone colors such as dark blue, influenced by traditional paintings, to that of warm, illuminating colors that you see here. Perhaps because I have reached a certain age and have accumulated expertise, and perhaps because of the stability in my career, the colors of my works have evolved to give an impression of softness and coziness.”
Minimalism in itself tends to be formulaic, concise and sharp, yet Mr. Choi’s artworks carry a definite warmth. Lee Tae-ho, an art critic, describes Choi’s works as being “full of traditional Korean aesthetic sensibilities,” using “a color scheme of dancheong, which is based on the philosophy of yin and yang, and of the theory of five basic elements: blue, white, red, black and yellow.”
Choi’s works reflect traditional Korean thought, but the formality is still modern Minimalism. His aim is to bring harmony of the East and West, and to come up with an eclectic style that has universal appeal. “If I upheld only traditional styles, it would be folk art. True art is about embracing the artistic tendencies of the world,” says Mr. Choi.
Choi, 46, who was trained in traditional Korean painting at Seoul National University before studying modern art at New York University, finds inspiration from cultural heritage sites around the country. His future lies in reconciling and embracing the Western and Eastern artistic appeal, he says.
Minimalist-style furniture, designed by the artist and made of walnut tree wood from Africa, are also on displays. The exhibition runs until Dec. 6. For more information, call (02)542-5543 or visit

by Choi Jie-ho
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