Ha is a leading figure in the Dansaekhwa movement, and his exhibition in New York is a good opportunity to see his artistic trajectory in this genre. The show features several works from a series called Conjunction, which is the name he has given all of his paintings since the early 1970s and includes his latest pieces from 2015. Furthermore, his abstract paintings reveal themselves much more when you see them in person. Yes, this is a cliché that applies to any artwork, but it is particularly true when it comes to Ha’s works: they are extremely phenomenological.
Ha uses unprimed common burlap as the support. As you get closer to the canvas, you see the coarseness of the material. In some cases, he applies paint from the rear of the canvas using a back-pressure method that he calls ‘bae-ap-bub.’ The rough fabric allows the paint to penetrate through to the other side, creating paint globules shaped like match heads. Then sometimes he reshapes the paint to add tactility. Of course, you cannot touch it, but the texture is exceptionally inviting. Looking at the artwork will not provide a clue about the process, but the unique surfaces underscore an unconventional way of painting and thus encourage viewing the work deliberately. The paint moves horizontally on the surface and vertically from back to front, reminding the viewer that the canvas is a three-dimensional object. In addition, the absorbent raw canvases generate a stained effect as oil separates from pigment and spreads to the unpainted area, providing a visual breakdown of the paint. Unlike a trompe l’oeil, the paint of Ha’s works is not pretending to be something else. Ha displays physicality of the materials without hesitation.
On the other hand, his brushstrokes evoke that these materials make an artwork only through his act of painting. The smears that he leaves on the canvas are sturdy. Also, a viewer looking closely will see hairs of the paintbrush trapped in the thick smudges. They are footprints of the artist’s force and friction between paint and brush. Just like the body movements in martial arts, Ha’s strokes are controlled and dignified: each of them appears to be determined with reason and meaning, and executed after hours or even days of contemplation. It is not so far-fetched to say that these works are time-based: the viewers feel the passage of Ha’s time while carefully following the traces on the canvas. The pace of viewing slows as though one harmonizes with the artist in action.
In his works, Ha seems to ‘visually’ describe the act of painting. Highlighting the ingredients of painting – material and action – he has developed a visual language to showcase what makes painting. As the survey continued over four decades, it became a long-term philosophical endeavor, which translates into a meditative quality, making the paintings quite compelling.
As though proving this point, Ha said, ‘You won’t see much difference between my early works and more recent ones, since my focus hasn’t wavered.’ This is certainly true and it makes this exhibition worth visiting, to marvel at the consistency displayed by Ha in his four decades in Dansaekhwa.
Tina Kim Gallery, 525 West 21st Street, New York, NY, USA +1 212 716 1100
By Naoko Kunigami
Naoko Kunigami recently graduated with a Master’s degree in Art History and Market, after working over 10 years in Finance IT. Born in Japan, she loves traveling, particularly to unbeaten paths. She currently resides in New York and enjoys finding great works by undiscovered artists.