Lee Ufan

From Winds


Lee Ufan born 1936
Oil paint and glue on canvas
Support: 1620 x 1302 x 30 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the Samsung Foundation of Culture 1997

Not on display


From Winds 1982 is a very tall rectangular oil painting by the South Korean artist Lee Ufan, which comprises a loose composition of large blue and yellow marks that have been created using multi-directional brushstrokes. The individual, twisting forms float against a warm cream background and are relatively evenly spaced across the full length and breadth of the canvas’s surface, giving the impression of an infinitely repeating abstract pattern. Although in places the marks are made up of thicker areas of paint – with a concentration of thicker blue marks in the composition’s centre – they mostly consist of lighter strokes that fade at their edges.

From Winds was made in 1982 when Lee was working between studios in Tokyo and Paris. The artist applied underlayer of translucent, cool grey coloured oil paint to the canvas first, which served to mute the warmer cream tone laid over it. Each mark was then created using multiple, repetitive, shifting movements. To apply them, Lee held the canvas horizontally rather than upright and loaded a flat brush with pigment, which he then pulled across the canvas, gradually depositing the paint until it was almost used up. It is likely that the denser blue marks towards the centre of the image were painted first and the brush then used to create the more insubstantial blue and yellow ones surrounding them. The blue marks are made up of a dry cobalt pigment dissolved in glue, and the rich mineralisation of the pigment gives the more thickly painted blue strokes a matt appearance. The yellow brushstrokes are fewer and more translucent and in some cases have been overpainted with the blue along one of their sides.

This painting has been constructed in a disciplined, almost ritualistic way that is characteristic of Lee’s practice (von Berswordt-Wallrabe 2008, p.7). The gradual unloading of the brush visible in the blue marks, which pale to immateriality in some areas of the canvas, is carefully controlled by the artist, who regulates his breathing when working. This painting is one of many works by Lee that explore the theme of infinity (see also From Line 1978, Tate T07301). As Lee has stated:

One way of showing the idea of infinity in a picture is in the repetition of figures. As with living organisms, it is repetition of birth and death, death and birth, yet it must be sequenced so each movement is unique and separate. The organic device whereby each brushstroke, each figure is independent and mutually related makes a picture full of forces.
(Quoted in an unpublished Board note presented to Tate Gallery Trustees, July 1997, Tate Artist Catalogue File, Lee Ufan, A21074.)

The repeating but individual forms in From Winds, which appear interconnected in the space and sometimes touch or overlap, reflect Lee’s definition of infinity. His exploration of infinity has also led to an increasingly subtle exploitation of the blank spaces of the canvas in images such as this one and in later paintings such as Correspondence 1993 (Tate T07303).

Lee was one of the leading proponents of the Japanese avant-garde movement mono-ha (‘School of Things’), which grew to international prominence from the mid-1960s. Partly as a reaction to the rapid industrialisation of Japan in this period, mono-ha sought to reject Western notions of representation and, as the art historian Joan Kee describes it, to produce artwork ‘whose fundamental materials were allowed to be shown without alteration’ (Kee 2008, p.405). The use of mineral elements in this painting, its title and its presentation of floating forms that emphasise the surface of the canvas seem to root the image in real rather than represented space, which exemplifies Lee’s ambition, as he stated in 1969, to ‘present the world (sekai) as it is’ (quoted in Kee 2008, p.405).

From Winds is part of a series of works produced by Lee between 1982–6 that was later extended into a related group entitled With Winds (1987–91), which feature much looser groupings of brushstrokes. The scattered, fractured arrangement of shapes in From Winds can also be considered a shift from the more systemised approach seen in Lee’s earlier paintings, such as From Line 1978 (Tate T07301) and From Point 1973 (Gallery Yonetsu, Tokyo). The art historian Joan Kee has described the From Winds series as ‘hybridised incarnations merging aspects from both the From Line and From Point series’ (Kee 2008, p.423). Kee has argued that the transition to the looser patterning in the From Winds series was due to Lee’s desire, as expressed in 1978, ‘to look at the other side of consciousness’ (quoted in Kee 2008, p.423), creating images which are less obviously controlled by the artist (see Kee 2008, p.423).

Further reading
Jean Fisher (ed.), Selected Writings by Lee Ufan 1970–96, Lisson Gallery, London 1996, reproduced.
Joan Kee, ‘Points, Lines, Encounters: The World According to Lee Ufan’, Oxford Art Journal, vol.31, no.3, 2008, pp.405–24.
Silke von Berswordt-Wallrabe, Lee Ufan, exhibition catalogue, Pace Gallery, New York 2008.

Jo Kear
August 2015

Supported by Christie’s.

Display caption

The 'From Winds' series, to which this painting belongs, was begun in the early 1980s. Lee Ufan later extended the series into a related group of works called 'With Winds'. The paintings are characterised by a loose lattice of multi-directional brushstrokes. They usually change direction mid-stroke, creating a sensation of airy lightness. With each stroke the paint thins as the brush unloads. As the two series developed, Lee Ufan's brushwork changed. The loose, calligraphic dexterity of the brushstrokes in paintings such as this one were superseded in later works by denser mosaics of brown and dark grey, which covered the entire ground.

Gallery label, September 2004

Technique and condition

The painting was executed on a single piece of medium-weight linen canvas, which has been stretched around a strainer with wire staples. The canvas was primed with a moderately thin white oil-primer which appears commercially applied prior to the fabrics stretching, and covers the entire fabric apart from the two selvedges at the left and right sides. Some old rusting marks are visible from a previous set of steel staples at the rear of the painting, but it is not known whether these were the originals which were later replaced, or whether the current fixings were also applied by the artist.

The stretched face of the primed canvas was then covered with two reasonably thin layers of oil paint. The first is a cool grey and the top layer is a warmer cream colour. Both are vehicular and paste-like in consistency and have reasonable gloss and opacity, although the top cream layer is slightly transparent. The subsequent large blue brushstrokes are localised so that the cream layer is left uncovered in many areas. These brushstrokes appear to have been produced by the application first of a transparent binding medium, followed by the introduction of the dry blue pigment into this binder before it had dried properly and with the painting held horizontally. The excess pigment would then have fallen away once the painting had been returned to the vertical. The nature of the binding medium and the pigment are not yet known. However, the binder is a synthetic medium, identified as an acrylic-modified alkyd resin, which is possibly some kind of commercial varnish. The pigment is extremely opaque, brittle and coarse, and actually far more like a ground rock or mineral than a true pigment. These blue brushstrokes are of variable gloss, opacity and thickness, ranging from a very thin application primarily of the transparent, glossy medium to the dry, matt areas which consist of a rather thick build-up of the opaque blue pigment.

The work has no varnish layer and is not framed. The painting is in an excellent condition, with the blue particulate material still very strongly adhered to the canvas. Several fingerprints and handling marks have been removed from the two side tacking margins.

Tom Learner
August 1997