Yun Hyong-Keun

Burnt Umber & Ultramarine Blue


Not on display

Yun Hyong-Keun 1928–2007
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 2294 × 1811 mm
Presented by an anonymous donor 2018


Burnt Umber & Ultramarine Blue 1978 is a large oil painting on canvas by the Korean abstract artist Yun Hyong-Keun. The title refers to the two colours used in the making of the painting which, according to the artist, represent the colours of earth and water respectively. The composition consists of two vertical, densely painted areas on the left and right sides, like pillars, and a larger unpainted section of canvas in the middle. The edges between the painted and unpainted areas show the absorption of solvent and diluted oil paint, resembling the effects of ink or water colour paint that has permeated a porous surface. The uneven rate of absorption softens the contrast between the dark painted stripes and the unpainted section of the canvas.

Departing from his paintings of the early 1960s that employed bright colours and thick paint, towards the end of that decade Yun began to lay down raw canvases on his studio floor and paint upon them with vertical stripes of umber and ultramarine. He merged the two colours, one on top of the other, to create an intense and thick darkness, as seen in this later painting of 1978. As Yun later recalled: ‘I merged the two [umber and ultramarine] together, and kept putting one on top of the other so that they darkened and became the color [that they are] … There are times when it takes several days, or sometimes several months for a work to be complete.’ (Quoted in Kee 2013, p.83.) After applying an initial coat of paint, Yun applied another layer before the first had dried and successively built up layers of paint, creating a matte and velvet-like darkness.

By the mid-1970s, he had reduced the number of stripes in his paintings and increased the compositional role of the unpainted areas. After a visit to New York in 1974 to attend the funeral of the artist Kim Whanki, his father-in-law, Yun became aware of the works of Mark Rothko (1903–1970), which he encountered at the Museum of Modern Art. Yun felt an affinity with Rothko’s painting where pictorial space is separated by implied division rather than by any explicit marker of separation. Blurred edges had been part of Yun’s repertoire since the early 1970s, but his works made from late in 1974 until the mid-1980s, including this painting, show a renewed attention to a visual continuation between the pictorial parts, aided by the seepage of pigment and turpentine. Burnt Umber & Ultramarine Blue was first exhibited in Yun’s solo show at the Tokyo Gallery in 1978.

Inspired formally and conceptually by Korean calligraphy and literati painting – which emphasised the flow of lines and the traces of ink – Yun also approached painting in relation to nature. He wrote in 1976, ‘Nature, however you look at it, is always unadorned, fresh and beautiful. I wonder if my paintings could capture the beauty of nature. No, it would be impossible. Even so, I want to make paintings that, like nature, one never tires of looking at. That is all I want in my art.’ (Yun Hyong-Keun, ‘A Thought in the Studio’, quoted in Park and Hur 2015, p.10.)

Further reading
Joan Kee, ‘Kwon Young-woo and Yun Hyongkeun Rethink Painting’, Contemporary Korean Art: Tansaekwha and The Urgency of Method, Minneapolis and London 2013, pp.35–93.
Park Kyung-mee and Hur Si Young (eds.), Yun Hyong-Keun: Selected Works 1972–2007, PKM Gallery, Seoul 2015.

Sook-Kyung Lee
April 2018

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