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Kim Tschang-yeul's water droplets still resonate today

By Park Yuna

Published : June 9, 2024 - 14:40

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"Water Drops" by Kim Tschang-yeul (Courtesy of Kim Tschang-Yeul Estate and Gallery Hyundai)

Korean art master Kim Tschang-yeul is known for paintings of water droplets, depicted so delicately and minutely that they seem real. His enthusiasm for painting water droplets began in 1971 and continued until his death in 2021 at the age of 91.

The exhibition “Beyond Iridescence” at Gallery Hyundai in Seoul pays tribute to the artist in commemoration of the third anniversary of his death. The gallery had a long relationship with the artist starting from his early years. The exhibition, marking the 15th solo exhibition of Kim, features some 30 works created from the early 1970s to the 2010s.

"Water Drops" by Kim Tschang-yeul (Courtesy of Kim Tschang-Yeul Estate and Gallery Hyundai)

Kim lived through tumultuous years of Korea's modern history. Born in 1929 in South Pyongan Province, in today's North Korea, he had to stop studying art at Seoul National University when the Korean War broke out in 1950.

His memories of the war remained and trauma and survivor's guilt haunted him for the rest of his life. Kim painted hyperrealistic water droplets as though expressing repentance and practicing a kind of spiritual training. The pure water droplets on linen, newspaper or hanji seem like a requiem for the dead sung visually, some art critics have said.

“Painting waterdrops aims to dissolve everything into the water drops and transparently return to the state of nothing. We will ultimately experience peace and stability when we send our anxiety and fear into the emptiness,” the artist once said in an interview.

An installation view of “Beyond Iridescence” at Gallery Hyundai in Seoul (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald) An installation view of “Beyond Iridescence” at Gallery Hyundai in Seoul (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

Documentary “The Man Who Paints Water Drops,” released in 2021, follows Kim as he reminisces about his life. The first-ever documentary on Kim was directed by Kim’s second son, Oan Kim, and French artist Brigitte Bouillot.

It is little known that the artist also created installation works inspired by water droplets, which are also part of the exhibition. The exhibition runs through Sunday.