Untitled 77-8


Acrylic on canvas
35 13/16 x 28 5/8 inches (90.9 x 72.7 cm)
© Chung Sang-Hwa


The process of eliminating, restoring, then destroying. From there, there is sublimation and then destruction again. This is the cycle. Destroying and restoring. This cycle of positive and the negative is the process that creates the surface. Space, planes and lines all emerge from this process.
—Chung Sang-Hwa

Chung Sang-Hwa graduated from Seoul National University with a fine arts degree in 1956, three years after a truce brought a provisional end to the Korean War. Faced with a paucity of resources in its destructive wake, Chung and his peers were often short on art supplies. When they ran out of paint, the students would mix jitan, a type of charcoal, with oil to make works of art. This inspired him to experiment with kaolin, a powdered stone that is produced in the Gaoling region of China, which remains a core material in his practice. He first combined kaolin with oil or dissolved it in water, developing a process over time that became uniquely his own: born of scarcity yet resulting in a methodology that centers technique, curiosity, and innovation.

Chung began this process by painting the entirety of his canvas with a mixture of water, kaolin clay, and glue; once this thick substance had dried, he drew perfectly calculated grid patterns on the painting’s back and proceeded to fold the canvas along these lines. Once the guidelines of a grid had been thus defined, he tore the paint off of the canvas along these lines in strips, revealing the exposed bare canvas edged with several layers of acrylic paint. The result is a richly textured monochromatic landscape in which the surface of the original, thick paint is divided at small intervals by multiple vertical and horizontal lines in softer, slightly varying shades. Untitled 77-8 (1977) is an exemplar of Chung’s renowned process: a shimmering white grid that joins mathematical precision with an investigation of dimensionality and materiality.

Chung moved to Paris in 1967 to study the works of art he had previously only been able to see as reproductions in books and periodicals. Learning French and visiting galleries and museums, he immersed himself deeply in contemporary art and art history. In 1969, Chung moved to Kobe, Japan, where he advanced his exploration of composition and process, and furthered his engagement with the international avant-garde. There, he befriended Jiro Yoshihara, one of the founders of the radical Gutai group. Chung has cited the influence of the works by others in their milieu as helping determine the rhythms of his ritualistic approach to painting. These encounters would eventually lead to his groundbreaking canvases of the Dansaekhwa period that integrate his innovative process with the systematic order of the grid.

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