Kim Tschang-Yeul's [1929-2021] beguiling water drops might signify purity or cleansing, but the process of making them was more important to him than their symbolic weight.

''I've dissolved and erased horrible memories by painting them countless times,'' he told Yonhap. 

Seoul - South Korea : Kim Tschang-Yeul : [ 1929-2021 ] who devoted a half century to creating luminous paintings of water drops that are informed by the trauma of war and Eastern philosophy, died on Jan 5.

Rendered with meticulous care, Mr. Kim's drops can seem to sit miraculously atop his raw canvases or be in the midst of gliding down them, leaving a trail of moisture. They glimmer with light and cast shadows, and while vividly present, they are always on the verge of evanescing.

They made Mr. Kim one of the most celebrated Korean artists of his time.

Versed in Zen Buddhism and Taoism, he wrote in a statement for a 1988 exhibition that his aim in his tranquil paintings was ''to dissolve everything into drops of water and return it transparently into nothingness.''

''When we have turned anger, unease and fear into emptiness,'' he wrote, ''we can experience peace and harmony.''

Reviewing a monograph of Mr. Kim's work last June, Jason Farago wrote wrote in The New York Times, ''For Mr. Kim,'' these water works ''effect a strange melding of hyperrealism and abstraction, always trying but never succeeding to come to terms with the past.''

Growing up amid the Japanese occupation of Korea, the post World-War II division of rhe country and the Korean War, Mr. Kim was a key member of generation of artists who adopted radical practices in the 1950s in South Korea and then spread them beyond their borders.

His breakthrough came in the 1970s, when he was in his 40s, impecunious and working in a former stable in a Paris suburb. Unhappy with a painting, he splashed water on it one night intending to clear away the paint. 

When he returned in the morning light, he was transfixed by the remaining drops. ''It was spectacular,'' he said in a 2016 interview with the Yonhap News Agency.

''It was like a symphony. I took pictures of them and started thinking about how to express them on a canvas. Then began my lifelong task.''

''I lived with the seriousness of someone who was caught the tiger by the tail,'' Mr. Kim said in a interview. ''Once you have caught hold of a tiger's tail, you have to follow it all the way to the end, on pain of being eaten alive.''

The World Students Society thanks author Andrew Russeth.


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