2 of the pioneers of Korean art, Byun Wol-ryong and Lee Jung-seob has already taken the stage at MMCA Deoksugung’s Korean Modern Master series. Now, the museum is celebrating the 100th Anniversary of yet another modern master Yoo Youngkuk.
Described as being reserved yet bold, Yoo Youngkuk was taciturn and liked to keep it that way for a long time. When his son Yoo Jin asked his father about his creations, he simply replied: “If you like it, that means it's well done.”
Born in 1916 to a landowning family in Uljin, North Gyeongsang Province, Yoo Youngkuk preferred to think of himself as a person from Ganwondo (as Uljin was originally part of the Gangwon province), an area in Korea known for its gorgeous mountainous landscapes adjacent to the East Sea. From a young age he studied art and was fortunate enough to attend a prestigious art school in Tokyo. Returning to Korea, however, he worked as a fisherman and later brewing and selling his own liquor which brought him good deal of wealth. As his son recalls, Yoo never talked about money, and it seemed as though it was never really an issue for his late father. Fortune and fame seems to have followed this man, though. He even warned his wife that his paintings will only sell after his death, but to the couple’s surprise and content, purchases began when he was 60 years old.
Witnessing how the ruthless and somewhat hedonistic artist magically shares his positive energy in his paintings, however, it is understandable as to why his pieces were in such a demand. His abstractions of nature utilizing basic elements – dots, lines, planes, forms, and colors – have a powerful allure, inducing the audience to approach the essence of nature in a refreshing yet simple manner. These picturesque paintings do not bring out reminiscent or nostalgic feelings, or make us wonder of a deeper meaning. That is, there is no reason to question, as the profound beauty of the elements formed in perfectly balanced compositions engulfs the audience at first sight. Then stepping closer, the thick texture left behind from the brushstrokes add to the excitement of the pulsating colors, allowing one to notice subtle differences in tones when stepping back again. Whether portraying a warm sunset, harsh winters, or the grandness of Korean mountains, this artist’s representation of nature is poetically alive.
Unlike his peer Lee Jung-seob, Yoo does not deal with emotions. Instead, the exhibition begins with studies of compositions done with simple wood forms, lines and colors. This initial set up enforces the viewer to further study the compositional structures of Yoo’s paintings throughout the exhibition. This vital step unfolds the story behind the paintings: an asymmetrical abstraction of nature balance by colors. Whether as simple as one triangle and a circle, or with a chaotic blend of primary colors, there is not one moment of visual silence.