Park Seo-Bo, one of South Korea’s leading artists, has died aged 91

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The Korean artist Park Seo-Bo, considered a pioneer of the Dansaekhwa movement, has died aged 91. The artist died of cancer according to a report by the Korea-based Yonhap News Agency. One of South Korea’s most famous and commercially successful artists, Park is best known for minimalist abstract paintings associated with the Dansaekhwa school of the 1960s which emerged in the wake of the Korean War (1950-53).

His death was also confirmed by the Paris-based Perrotin gallery who said in a statement: “Like the Korean scholars and Buddhist monks who saw writing as a purifying process, Park Seo-Bo saw painting and the repetitive gesture from which his monochromes emerged as a catharsis.”

Born in 1931 in Yecheon County of North Gyeongsang Province, Park later studied Western and Oriental painting at Hongik University in Seoul. During a stay in Paris in 1961, he pursued his interest in Art Informel, subsequently creating his Primordialis works filled with amorphous forms.

Park is also known for his Ecriture series, a series of works launched in 1967 which comprise pencil-line marks made repeatedly on paper. The series was inspired by Park watching his son try to draw characters on the gridded paper used by Korean schoolchildren. “His son’s struggles reminded Park of the instruction ‘to surrender and erase all traces of my ordeals again and again’ which had been given to him by the Buddhist teacher Kim Iryeop a decade before,” says a statement from White Cube, who co-represent Park.

Park remained a leading proponent of abstract painting in Korean art throughout the 1970s and 1980s, influencing a generation of artists known for their “meditative, process-oriented abstraction”, reports Art Asia Pacific. The artist said: “The sole objective of painting was not to create a beautiful piece, but to attain self-control.”

According to Korean press reports, a museum dedicated to Park is due to open next summer on Jeju Island in Seogwipo. A statement on White Cube website confirms the move, saying that architect “[Fernando] Menis’ concept for the museum aligns with Park Seo-Bo’s art philosophy. Valuing the importance of nature, Menis has designed a sunken structure that allows natural light to reach even the underground exhibition spaces.” It is unclear how the museum will proceed.

Earlier this year the Gwangju Biennale, Korea’s most prestigious art exhibition, discontinued a $100,000 prize named after and funded by Park following complaints that the artist’s aesthetic style and political stances were at odds with the spirit of the Gwangju Biennale.

Park Jae-hong (Park Seo-Bo), born Yecheon County, Korea 15 November 1931; died 14 October 2023.

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