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Park Seo-Bo’s World of Ecriture_박서보의 묘법세계

변종필

Park Seo-Bo’s World of Ecriture: Towards Asceticism in the Spirit of “Benefit the Self, Benefit Others” 

Byeon Jong Pil

The Development of Park’s Ecriture

“I do not ‘paint’ a painting.” - Park Seo-Bo

Park Seo-Bo has been evaluated as a creator of his own distinct world of formative art, asserting post-image, post-logic, and post-expression—while his oeuvre shares characteristics with the dynamic painters of the Korean Monochrome movement of the 1970s, a movement that introduced new form and content. Indeed, Park’s unique vision has been documented through the writings of renowned art experts at home and abroad. Specifically, Lee Yil, Kim Bok-young, Oh Kwang-su, Song Mi Sook, Yoon Jin Sup, Seo Seongrok, Hong Ga Yi, Okwui Enwezor, Joseph Love, Robert C. Morgan, Pierre Dunoyer, Nikos Papastergiadis, and Nakahara Yusuke have developed relevant art theories based on Park’s work. 
Park Seo-Bo’s works can be roughly divided into two periods: the “Primordialis to Illusion” period from 1957 to 1970 and the “Ecriture” period from the early 1970s to the present. During his earlier period, his work was more experimental, attempting to identify the essence of painting in pursuit of a fundamental reality, while his later work explores the essence and origin of painting, which are found through experimentation.
In particular, Ecriture, which he began exploring in the 1970s and has sustained for forty-five years, is representative of his works, in addition to being the most important language throughout his oeuvre. Ecriture is also the form and spirit behind his creative endeavors and the door to his art world. Therefore, looking into his world of Ecriture becomes the most practical approach to understanding his life and art. “Periodical changes in Ecriture,” “pencils and hanji representing Ecriture materials,” and the “nature of Ecriture” are small chapters in exploring this world, and such exploration is a meaningful approach to comprehending his oeuvre.  
Park’s world of Ecriture has undergone two phases in terms of color: the achromatic period before 2000 and color period after. The earlier period is subdivided into the “early stage” and “intermediate stage” according to changes in Ecriture and ideology thereof, while the later period can be considered the “late stage.”
The early stage of Ecriture lasted from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, in pursuit of “composition and emptiness,” and the following stage, from 1986 to 2000, sought “innocence of mind” by means of self-purification. The late stage of Ecriture, which continues until now, started in 2001 with the introduction of “art for healing” combined with the spirit of the earlier achromatic stages.1) Park’s forty-five-year Ecriture world can be summarized in the diagram below. 






묘법: Ecriture
무채묘법: Achromatic Ecriture, 유채묘법: Color Ecriture
초기묘법: Early stage Ecriture (late 1960s–mid-1980s), 중기묘법: Intermediate stage Ecriture (mid-1980s–2000), 후기묘법: Late stage Ecriture (2001–the present)
구도와 비움: Composition and emptiness, 자기정화(정신의 순결성): Self-purification (innocence of mind), 치유의 색: Colors for healing
캔버스에 연필과 유채: Pencils and oils on canvas, *선과 연필 중심(평면적): *Lines and pencils (planar), 한지에 복합재료: Hanji with various materials, *면과 선 중심(입체적): *Lines and faces (cubic), 한지에 복합재료: Hanji with various materials, *색, 면, 선 중심(입체적): *Lines, faces, and colors (cubic)


The Early Stage: Composition and Emptiness

It was at his solo exhibition at the Muramatsu Gallery in Tokyo in June 1973 when Park debuted Ecriture.2) This was where he started sharing his Ecriture paintings, the embodiment of “post-image” and “post-expression” on canvases of white oil, with an international audience. As is widely known, what inspired the artist to use Ecriture as a theme was the result of a small event from his everyday life. One day in 1967, his second child, a three-year-old, was practicing writing Korean characters inside squares of a notebook. While watching his son, he had an epiphany, which became the inspiration behind Ecriture.

“My son was practicing writing letters inside squares but the letters often escaped the lines, so he would erase the letter and try writing it again but then, erase it again. He kept writing and erasing, over and over again. Eventually the paper would get torn and nothing was going the way it was supposed to, and the upset little kid started to randomly draw lines with his pencil. I was staring at him for a while because it was cute that he was working so hard with his little hands. And all of a sudden, something hit me and I thought this is it. Imitating my son’s behavior was my first Ecriture.”3)

Upon observing his son’s behavior, Park thought that his son trying to write the letters in the box as his purpose and his drawing lines on the failed letters as his resignation. According to Park’s story, it seems clear that he obtained the motif for Ecriture from his son’s act of practicing his writing. In other words, from his son’s act of erasing and denying the preceding act, he found the essence of formative art that he was seeking; he also found meaninglessness in art that has a purpose. That is Ecriture. In the early 1970s, the works he created by splitting a canvas into multiple squares and erasing the lines of the split space with other lines are included in his Ecriture works.
Park started Ecriture while immersed in the fundamental questions about the value of human existence. At this time, he realized that the value of human existence could not be defined by any certain image, and so started to seek new art forms different from the works4) he created before he discovered Ecriture. The Ecriture series in the early 1970s explored the principles of formative art by using dots, lines, and faces—basic elements of painting—while attempting to show the absence of image through regular lines. He reinforced diversification and the distinct will of the artist by shifting regular diagonal lines to rhythmic ones. 
Apply oils on canvas; before the paint dries, move the hand that holds the tool with a sharp pencil-like tip, as if erasing. Then, along the , lines will be created. Unlike what can be expressed by a pencil alone, this method left traces of lines and paint by making slight variances of thickness and peeling paints dependent on the pressure applied when the paint and pencil collided.
In this regard, Nakahara Yusuke defined Ecriture as, “born in subtle conflicts between drawing and painting.”5) The lines drawn on canvas without any intention to do so as the paint that hasn’t yet dried forms its own painting by being pushed by the pencil or by piling on itself, create strange conflicts between line and paint. Nakahara saw these strange conflicts as the starting point of Ecriture. Concerning this type of pencil Ecriture, neither drawing nor painting in terms of definition and category, Lee Yil said: “In Informel Art, an act is something “expressive,” while in the present, that is something “post-expressive.” In Informel Art, action was a direct expression of humanity’s presence, while in Ecriture period, action was spiritualized to hand movements in a kind of state free from all thought, excluding all expressions.6) Lee pointed out that the expressive characteristic of Ecriture is fundamentally different from that of the Informel movement.
In accordance with Lee’s view, Ecriture is a record of Park’s act of erasure, which leaves behind the most primitive traces from the relationship between materials and act that characterized Informel-style art. The act here is the traces expressed in a trance while the artist is holding his breath. While he is taking a deep breath and holding it in, his hands move vigorously in a stirring motion across the hemp or canvas. A pencil passes through the wet oil. He breathes, repeating the action of drawing and erasing without aim as he immerses himself in a pure world. The final traces left on the canvas are the traces of the act of the accumulation of a process of repetitive erasing, as the canvas becomes a place where gesture itself is embodied.
The core of Park’s early-stage Ecriture is “erasure.” Just as a small child repeatedly writes and erases a letter until he is satisfied, Park’s Ecriture is a process in which he erases his act again and again.

“My painting is only a means for discipline. Whatever is generated from the process of discipline becomes a painting. Therefore, painting is not a space in which thoughts are filled, but a space where the mind is emptied,”7) said Park. His words show that his pencil Ecriture is a repetitive gesture of emptying again and again until one comes to a realization rather than to the drawing of a picture. In short, Ecriture is a process of discipline through repeated “composition and emptiness.”

The Intermediate Stage: Self-purification

The 1970s was a period when Park Seo-Bo practiced composition and emptiness through pencil Ecriture, while the duration of the 1980s to 2000 marked the establishment of his world of formative art. On oils, what first unfolded was “pencil Ecriture,” then “zigzag Ecriture,” and finally “vertical Ecriture,” thus making the Ecriture world broader and more profound.
What marked Park’s works after the mid-1980s was the disappearance of pencil drawing. As for material, a combination of aqueous paints and hanji produced another medium, while in terms of form, lines having wandered around the plane found space, creating a new type of a plane. So-called “zigzag Ecriture,” which had appeared from the mid-1980s to the 1990s, exudes a dynamic feeling as if small furrows formed groups and freely flew around the canvas in random directions, while “vertical Ecriture,” a major form of Ecriture from the late 1990s to the early 2000, feels static as aligned lines maintain delicate and regular intervals and split the canvas evenly. 
It feels like the scattered material (hanji) has been arranged well. The shift of the zigzag Ecriture to the vertical Ecriture is like that a rough field is plowed and transformed to a neatly-weeded paddy as a result of repeated plowing, toil and sweat. As the well-plowed field is an outcome of toil and sweat, the two types of Ecriture are a product generated from strict self-control and self-discipline. In this regard, Park’s intermediate-stage Ecriture is characterized by the persistently repeated act of penance so that it can be regarded as ascetic practice aimed at obtaining purity of mind as well as an attitude of asceticism for self-purification.
One of the most crucial factors for the figurative shift in this period is a change of materials. Park attempted to change the material from canvas to hemp to hanji. This indicates it was not just a simple change of base medium, but a considerable change in a series of processes of exploring and expressing materiality. From this point, whether or not he used hanji is a key barometer to classify his oeuvre.
Park mentioned that his encounter with hanji was neither intentional nor had a purpose, but that it was instead another level of spontaneity and inevitability that indicated his present psychological state and expanded the meaning of post-image8).
Hanji (韓紙) literally means “Korean paper” (han (韓) means Korean and ji (紙), paper). Along with hanok (traditional Korean houses) and hanbok (traditional Korean dress), hanji is a valuable material symbolizing the uniqueness of Korean culture and art. Hanji has reflected Koreans’ way of life and art as well as sentiment for a great many years. Unlike other kinds of paper, hanji breathes with nature; called “breathing paper,” it filters air by adjusting indoor and outdoor air, changes a mood depending on the shade, is well-lit and well-ventilated, and is capable of adjusting humidity. A typical feature of hanji is its absorbency, while canvas is characterized by its elasticity; such are the particularities between cloth and paper.
Park’s work begins at the moment of selecting hanji. Going through a stubbornly meticulous selection process, hanji is kept soaked in water to acquire its natural character as much as possible. When the starchy tough paper softens like papier-mâché after having been soaked for a long time, it is applied evenly on canvas in order to properly display its unique characteristics. From this point, reveals a special property of Park’s painting. He spreads out the hanji and pushes it repeatedly as if he were plowing furrows in the frozen winter ground in order to plant seeds in spring. Digging furrows requires both physical labor and psychological concentration. The process itself resembles that of making traditional Korean craftworks steeped with the skill of an artisan, or fermented food that can only be achieved after a long period of time. The magnificence of his works is a result of arduous effort and time. 
Let’s take a closer look at Park’s work process. The direction of his work is determined by the moment of impact when the pencil touches the surface that will scratch hanji. It is not that the direction is determined from the onset but that the encounter of hanji and pencil and the act of the artist determine where the work will go. Throughout the process, the direction of hanji involves no purpose or intent. The artist’s effort towards excluding purpose and intention from his works as much as possible is revealed in the work process. In an attempt to objectify his thoughts, he hires an assistant. For example, assistant “A” first leaves traces on the surface, then the artist covers with new texture the traces left by “A.” After that, assistant “B” erases the artist’s traces, and then the artist erases “B”’s traces. This process is repeated. In the end, earlier traces are covered with later traces; otherwise they are left in a different form. This is a process of neutralization that completely eliminates subjectivity and obtains objectivity. In this process, when expressiveness is completely excluded thereby definitely revealing the hands’ skill, the act is repeated until the artist reaches the stage where the skill determines the art. His act of repetition erases any existent original shape. The ultimate result of this act of painting emphasizes the impossibility for a clear or fixed shape.
The projected lines and flat parts on a canvas are three-dimensional yet planar and linear at the same time. A yin yang method of placing light lines against a dark background or vice versa creates depth and a three-dimensional effect on a work. The projected hard lines with different shapes from each other are indeed lines, and the faces looking like furrows made in between the three-dimensional lines are also lines from a broad perspective. Further, the role of lines and faces is not fixed in their relationship. Their roles can be switched depending on the viewer’s thoughts and perspective. In other words, it is not that the three-dimensional lines connect the faces but that the faces form the three-dimensional lines. 
After all, in Park’s work, three-dimensional lines and faces are interconnected, not separated from each other. As if there were innumerable furrows made on a huge area of the earth, these three-dimensional lines and the faces created by endless repetitions are a product of Park’s physical acts on the canvas. The product of the acts resembles such shapes in nature as ridges, low banks of earth that make boundaries between fields, and furrows, long thin lines with each line cut between two projected lines of earth. Therefore, his works are natural rather than mechanical. He does not paint a certain shape or certain object but repeats the act of creating lines and faces, with the act itself taking on meaning.
An empty space in the middle, or at a specific part of a canvas, recalls the starting point of a work. By creating a disturbance in the immersion of a work, the empty space calls attention to the original empty canvas where nothing exists. Using hanji as a major material, Park’s intermediate-stage Ecriture is a resetting tool as well as a self-purification process, inducing viewers to empty their mind and then immerse themselves in the work. As he said in an interview in relation to his solo exhibition in 1991,9) Ecriture is like emptying the mind and therefore, it is an act of reaching one notch toward sublimated aesthetic sense by hiding rather than revealing.
Suppressing fervent desire through a thoughtless repetitive act is not much different from an ascetic in terms of strict self-control. Park emphasizes that the process of self-discipline through which one learns about and reflects upon oneself is, indeed, the identity of art. 

The Late Stage: Colors of Healing

In the 2000s, Park Seo-Bo broke from the old frame of achromatic Ecriture by using various colors in order to bring about change in his work. Since his solo exhibition, PARK, SEO-BO Today Playing with Color at the Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art in 2007, he has more strongly sought the beauty of colors. As if an ascetic suddenly exposed his long-subdued sensuality, Park brought splendid and sophisticated colors to the canvas. This change originated from his reflections on nature as he has said many times before. One day, at Bandai Valley in Fukushima Prefecture in Japan, he witnessed the moments when the autumn colors changed. He was attracted by the beauty of nature, which inspired him to use colors in earnest. Through the experience of melding himself with the beauty of nature, he came to believe that colors could heal people’s body and mind. 
To be sure, this attempt was not new since other artists have tried to express the color changes caused by natural light. For instance, the Impressionists’ desperate effort to portray how the changing light brought color to an object was a starting point for nature to be differently realized in works of art. It is a truth across all cultures that humans are attracted to the beauty of nature. However, how to express that beauty is what varies.  
Then, what is special about the colors Park used? His colors represent harmony so that viewers can feel a spectrum of similar colors on a canvas. This is technically different from the Impressionists’ attempt to express how colors changed with the natural light by juxtaposing original colors rather than mixing them. In other words, one is an act of bringing visual change to the canvas; the other is an act of expressing the colors in one’s mind which are acquired by imagery.
This explains why viewers sense subtle differences when they appreciate Park’s works, depending on the angle, the time, and the space. Just as colors in nature look different after a small change occurs in the environment, the efforts of the artist who wants to express changes in nature creates subtle colors of the heart with seemingly similar but different tones. From the front view, colors are distinguished by furrows; but from the side view, monotone colors like yellowish green, yellow, and red, are seen changing as if they were waves of color. Those colors paint the audience’s heart. 
Park’s color Ecriture reminds us of the word “noble.” He used contrasting colors of black and white for the series of achromatic Ecriture, suggesting sophistication. On the other hand, color Ecriture maintained color sophistication by combining a balance of elegance and refinement. And this way added a noble feeling to his color Ecriture.
Strictly speaking, Park’s adoption of color Ecriture is more closely related to chronological changes. At the start of 2001, Park felt a momentary fear. During the transition between analog and digital, he felt afraid. Experiencing high speed and high-speed mechanization of society, he thought that art should be a healing for all the anxiety.15)
Recalling the quote, “Art reflects time,” Park thought this hospitalizing world needed to be healed through Ecriture. While witnessing people suffer from numerous physical and mental illnesses, he thought that he had to heal all those who’d suffered trauma, and that art could be a remedy. 
Emphasizing art as healing, Mark Rothko (1903-1970), the American master abstract expressionist, designed the Rothko Chapel where only his works were housed in hopes of healing those who visited there. Like this, Park’s color Ecriture was expanded to the world of healing humans’ psychological and physical sufferings through self-purification. Finally, the colors in his mind are a remedy that heals body and soul.
In conclusion, Park’s Ecriture world “from composition to healing” is a process of transition from “art for myself” to “art for others.” There is a belief in East Asia that to “benefit the self, benefits others”—more specifically, by cultivating oneself first, others will benefit from the good deeds therein. Ecriture is a product of embodying value with the artistic act. 

Nature of Ecriture

Adaptation to Nature

We have looked at the intrinsic meaning of Park Seo-Bo’s works by examining the history of his Ecriture from composition to healing, but to examine his world of Ecriture more closely, we need to learn more about its nature.
Essentially, all works of Dansaekhwa (Korean monochrome painting) start by dealing with the essence of materiality, but their ultimate goal varies. Park’s Ecriture is a product of repeated physical acts to express creation and extinction based on naturalism, which can be confirmed by what he has mentioned a number of times.

“People consider my work to be similar to minimalism, but I don’t agree. My work is  associated with the East Asian tradition of space; in other words, spiritual notions of space. I have a keen interest in space from the point of view of nature. People may think that my work represents my insight into culture, but I actually focus on nature. I aim to maximize the expression of nature by reducing the viewpoint and sentiment of my work. In addition, I want to repeat reduction until my work is completely empty. This is an East Asian concept and approach. Through this process, nature and humans can communicate with each other.”10)

“I try to disintegrate the trivial parts of myself while listening to the sound of water, the sound of birds, the sound of a breeze, and sounds of a landscape”; “I was desperately driven to survive. However, at some point, I realized that was wrong. And, now, everything is going well. It’s because I recognized the laws of nature”; “I want to turn myself into someone nameless and completely delete myself. Now I live in nature together with nature.” These three quotes, published in the magazine, Space in 1977, contain the essence of Ecriture. With regard to Park’s quotes, critic Kim Bok-young considered “self disintegration,” “return to nature,” and “namelessness of self” as necessary and sufficient conditions for Ecriture because the motive for Ecriture started by considering how the self, self-disintegration, or the namelessness of the self is associated with the world.11) This ultimately refers to having no purpose according to the laws of nature. Nature does not act for a given purpose. As long as humans are not involved in the cycle of nature, nature exists as it is and repeats dying and rebirth. The moment humans intervene in the cycle of nature, nature will eventually be destroyed. When Park said that he would remove himself in nature it shows his will to follow the cycle of nature as a subjective human being.
Park’s use of colors also shows that the original essence of his Ecriture was an adaptation to nature. In Korean, there are a variety of color adjectives. When foreigners learn Korean, they find it difficult to understand adjectives that refer to the color of a certain object. For example, unlike the Western color wheel, in which black is just black and white is just white, Korean white and black can be expressed with many adjectives meaning “pale white,” or “darkish black,” and those designations are ambiguous and difficult for foreigners to grasp the true meaning of them. With red, for example, there are sixty adjectives including “sheer red,” “rosy,” “ruddy,” and “reddish,” when we only include those registered in the Korean dictionary. These adjectives embrace the different shades and sentiment coming from somewhere between red and reddish. Anyone whose mother tongue is not Korean will have difficulty to interpret or understand the words. In contrast, every Korean easily understands these subtle differences based on cultural intuition. Yellow can be also expressed in many ways including “pale yellow,” “yellowish,” and “dark yellow,” which suggest the feeling of a certain object. Distinguishing color is one of unique characteristics of the Korean language.
Here is the reason why we should not define the numerous colors in Park’s works as an embrace of minimalism or monochrome. We cannot be sure about a certain color since nature is ever changing even at a single moment. As we cannot define art as one form, we cannot be sure about a certain color. Korean colors include countless combinations of hues that we cannot see just like those internally existing in nature. This is a point where Park’s Dansaekhwa is fundamentally different from Western minimalism or monochrome art. Minimalism starts with logic while Park’s Dansaekhwa represents colors adapted in nature that are, as much as possible, acquired by refining sentiment obtained from nature and contracting and internalizing it. 

Resonance of Spirit

Park said, “Spirit overwhelms skill.” This quote illustrates the essence of Dansaekhwa, emphasizing that his works, i.e. Dansaekhwa, do not represent superficial exposure, but that they contain inner meaning, or a psychic resonance, which is much more significant. In this regard, philosopher Hong Ga Yi and professor An Eun-yeong have taken the noteworthy approach of analyzing Park’s works in terms of spirituality.
Hong Ga Yi wrote, “On his canvas, visible and also invisible ‘spirit-energy’ patterns are filled in (saved), so viewers standing before the work can feel a kind of resonance between the spirit-energy waves composed of spirit potential and their spirit-energy patterns. What activates the potential spirit-energy patterns saved on canvas is the spirit-energy pattern of the viewer. Their interactions are performed as a form of resonance.” He saw Park’s works as products that pioneer a completely new genre and suggested calling his work, “spirit art.”12)
Among various interpretations and analyses of Park’s work, the viewpoint regarding Ecriture as “spirit art” is particularly interesting. Such a perspective that sees the inherent strength of his works as having an artistic spirit is also in conjunction with “liveliness” and “spirit of artistic quality,” terms used by aesthetician Kim In-hwan.

“Liveliness is the unique nature of the spirit, which stems from changes in the movements of spirit, and without spirit, everything is dead and lively expressions are impossible.13)”   

This means that art is created to have vitality and anything that exists in a living form is fundamentally based on spirit. Park himself referred to his pieces as being fruits of self-discipline and asceticism, which makes it greatly important to identify what forces were behind his ascetic behavior. 
With the assumption that an artistic spirit is inherent in Ecriture, viewers standing before the piece need to learn how to appreciate the painting first, in order to feel, as Hong Ga Yi mentioned, spirit consisting of the potential force of energy—energy waves and one’s own spirit—a sort of resonance among energy patterns. This is why Park’s works need alternative modes of display unlike other artworks. Enjoying an artist’s work at a different angle, in a different space, depending on its characteristics, is particularly important because it increases the chance of a genuine communication with the work. 
For instance, along with Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman (1905~1970), one of the major color-field abstract artists, strongly recommended that their works be enjoyed from a certain distance: forty-five centimeters for the former and one meter for the latter. Rothko was particularly fastidious about where his works were hung, putting a great emphasis on the selection of space. Similarly, when appreciating Park’s pieces, whether a certain distance between the exhibited works is secured or not and the space is independently formed or not have an absolute influence when viewing his work. According to the viewer’s point of view and angle, the inspiration felt through those works varies from a wide range. For an in-depth appreciation of Park’s works, it is essential to view from both sides, and just as importantly, it is necessary to introduce stereoscopic exhibitions that allow, as the occasion demands, access to works from above and below. 
According to Park’s assertion that he does not “paint” a painting, his work is more of an object than a painting. While a painting is a restrictive element that should be interpreted and viewed within the frame designated by the author’s intention, an object is dependent on the viewer’s subjective perception. In other words, a painting is an object that depends on the viewer’s emotions. As the Chinese saying goes, “When the mind is not present, we look and do not see (心不在焉 目不見).” Park’s paintings are objects that can be seen only with the presence of the mind.
Perceiving the colors inherent in Park’s works is an ultimate starting point for understanding Korean emotions. Just as it is difficult for Koreans to completely understand all of Western works, it is also hard for foreigners to completely understand Koreans’ feelings. No doubt arts serve as a universal language, but sincere communication is unlikely without an understanding of each country’s unique contexts in terms of history, contemporaneity, and environment. An insufficient understanding of the background of a work hampers the objective appraisal of it. This explains why we should pay attention to the language of colors and language incorporated in Dansaekhwa, which is intrinsically different from Western-style monochrome and Japanese Mono-ha.
Park’s works are far from intense expressionism, which involves visual shock or destruction of figurative elements to cause astonishment. Yet, the intensity caused by the depth or width of thoughts accumulated within his works is much more impressive than expressionist intensity. His pieces have the power to bring spiritual calm rather than evoke visual beauty, peace of mind instead of external shock. The artist’s firm intention inscribed for decades in the structure of forms is so simple as to be boring; it oozes out between the furrows he has ploughed on the surfaces of his work. Owing to this, his world of Ecriture does not rest on asceticism, but rather goes so far as to provide an opportunity for viewers to reflect on the value of art and the value of life. This is the impressiveness and power of Park’s art. 

The Way of Ecriture: Incomplete Asceticism

Park likens his painting to “striking” orchids. In East Asia, “to strike orchids” means to draw orchids with a one-stroke technique. This is because while painting a subject, more focus should be placed on the discipline of the body and mind rather than on the realistic depiction of how the subject looks. As such, Park’s “I do not ‘paint’ a painting” has the same connotation as “striking orchids.” In East Asian painting, writing and painting are regarded as the same, with the same origin (書畵一致, 書畵同源). Just as writing and painting in a writers-drawn painting are inseparable, both being from the same origin, Park’s Ecriture can be expressed as painting and behaving are the same, with the same origin (畵行一致, 畵行同源).
Just as painting orchids is expressed as striking orchids, painting, for Park, does not mean the act of painting, but rather, is a self-disciplinary process. This is an answer to the question about the meaning of Park’s quote at the very beginning, “I do not ‘paint’ a painting.”
Attempts to understand and evaluate Park’s world of Ecriture will continue. Park should try to resolve the challenges he faces: the impression of his Ecriture carved like a symbol; mixed interpretations and strongly conflicting reviews regarding his world of art, among others. This is significantly relevant to the re-establishment of Dansaekhwa in Korean art in terms of aesthetics and art history. 

“Nothing is over until the lid is nailed on the coffin. The moment is gradually approaching for all of us. I will continue to strive towards self-discipline so as not to be filled with regret when that moment comes. No matter how strongly forced to move aside, I will not yield an inch. Pass me, if you dare. This is my final answer.”

This quote was taken from Park’s greetings at a gathering at the Swiss Grand Hotel in 2001 to celebrate the publication of his art book. The quote is not to be read as an expression of the stubbornness of an old artist, but rather as a reflection of his philosophy of life and his determination. The elderly artist’s resolution not to stop pursuing self-discipline until the very last moment of his life does not sound like empty rhetoric, owing to the staid attitude and mind he has shown throughout his Ecriture for forty-five years. There lies a reason why Park Seo-Bo’s world of Ecriture, not settling for asceticism, moves us to reflect on the value of art and the value of life.


                                                                                                                                              


1) The chronologic classification of Ecriture was rewritten by compiling what the artist Park Seo-Bo mentioned in Park Seo-Bo, a Forerunner of Korean Avant-garde: Record His 60 Years, published in 2010 and in an interview held on January 12, 2015.


2) An interview with Park Seo-Bo, January 12, 2015. Park said that he had already started works related to Ecriture in 1967. His pieces at that time have been introduced in several exhibition catalogues and books. He said he delayed publishing the Ecriture series because he was waiting until he completely embodied Ecriture in himself. However, in terms of “publication” through exhibition, it is widely held that his solo exhibition in Japan in June 1973 marks the starting point of his Ecriture period among other circumstances. 


3) Interview with Park Seo-Bo, January 12, 2015.


4) The restrained beauty of black as shown in the Primordialis series, which represents the Informel period before Ecriture, as well as the geometric abstraction shown in the Hereditarius series and Illusion series, which are free from the Informel style, characterize Park’s early works. 


5) Nakahara, Yusuke. Foreword from the catalogue, The Paintings of Park, Seo-Bo, Solo Exhibition, Tokyo Gallery, 1976; recited from Lim, Chang Sub. “Park Seo-Bo, a Forerunner of Korean Avant-garde: Record His 60 Years” and Park Seo-Bo, a Forerunner of Korean Avant-garde: Record His 60 Years, Busan Museum of Art, 2010, p.16.


6) Arranged after referring to, citing, and excerpting from p.16 of the book specified in the preceding paragraph 5).


7) Interview with Park Seo-Bo, January 12, 2015.


8) Referred to and summarized: “Western-style Painter Park Seo-Bo Creates Hanji Ecriture,” The Kyunghyang Shinmun, April 14, 1983.


9) An Exhibition interview for Retrospective - 40 Years of Painting of Park Seo-Bo, National Museum of Contemporary Art in 1991; Kim Tae-ik. “Praised or Criticized Master Artist of Abstract Painting,” The Chosun Ilbo, September 19, 1991.


10) Morgan, Robert C. “Regaining Silences: the Modernism of Park Seo Bo” for PARK SEO BO, Gallery Shilla, 2012, p.8.


11) Kim, Bok-young. Korean Modern Art Theory: Eye and Spirit. Hangil Art Publishing, 2006, pp. 166-167.


12) Hong, Ga Yi. “Painter Park Seo-Bo and His Works” for PARK, SEO-BO Today Playing with Color, Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art, 2007, p.136.


13) ) Kim, In-hwan. Asian Art Theory from the Perspective of ‘Spirit of Artistic Quality,’ Ahn Graphics, 2003, p.35.



Korean-English Translation of this article is supported by
Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and Korea Arts Management Service.

Translated by Ewha Research Institute for Translation Studies 이화여자대학교 통역번역연구소


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