This painting is part of a recent series Ahn initiated in the early 2000s. In 1966, Ahn moved permanently to the US, settling first in New York, and soon afterward moving to Los Angeles, where he still lives and works today. His mature work is heavily influenced by California light and beach culture. Frequently his work suggests natural subjects such as birds, the beach, water and sunlight. In this series of highly personal and introspective abstract works, Ahn turns inward for the source of his inspiration.
The written characters in the painting come from Hangul, the contemporary Korean writing system, an alphabet produced in 1443 by King Sejong the Great, intended to be easy to learn and to read. Hangul is organized to have 2 to 3 letters per block, creating a complete phoneme. In this painting, Young-Il Ahn wrote Hangul in the traditional style, which is vertical rather than horizontal. He erased most of the letters, rendering the text completely unreadable, and therefore abstract. The formal aesthetic qualities of the writing also represent the grid, which is so important to all of Young-Il Ahn's paintings.
Says curator David Mitchell, "I think there's something to be considered in that an artist's hand is influenced by the motor skills developed in writing text, like Cy Twombly scribbles having a relationship with cursive, or Russian Suprematist works having this hard-turn-angle thing like Cyrillic. The logic of both the organization and the execution of the marks in this painting relates back to the writing Young-Il Ahn would have been doing at a very young age."
Artist Background: Born in Gaeseong, Korea, in 1934, Ahn is renowned for making intricate, large-scale paintings that explore his relationship with beauty, nature and music. His work is frequently associated with Dansaekhwa, an aesthetic position specific to Korea, which expresses natural processes through a mostly monochromatic palette. As a Korean-born painter working in the U.S., Ahn is unique among Dansaekhwa artists.
Ahn’s work has been featured in many museum shows. But for him,the most important was in 2017, when his monographic exhibition opened at LACMA. The first museum show Ahn saw after moving to the US was at LACMA. It featured the work of Willem de Kooning. About that show, Ahn has said, “I was deeply moved and at the same time greatly challenged. The notion that someday I would have my own LACMA exhibition was simply unfathomable.