Kwon Young-Woo’s (1926-2013) career spanned over six decades and he remains one of Korea’s most influential Korean contemporary artists. Coming of age at a time in Korean history where artists sought to create works distinct from the styles taught under Japanese colonial rule, Kwon’s practice was instrumental in furthering these developments almost independently from any established artist groups. Kwon is most widely known for his works exploring the materiality of paper and ink and was an early practitioner of what would later become known as the Dansaekhwa movement.
Kwon created autonomous structures utilizing layers of hanji (traditional Korean mulberry paper) that he glued to the surface and then altering the paper by tearing and scratching the surface with his fingers. In other works, Kwon would experiment with various layers of papers to create abstract grids and mountainous forms while in other he would puncture holes with a tool. While some works contain only white color, in many the artist experimented with the properties of ink allowing the ink to spread itself as it interacted with the paper and surface. In this way, the process and focus on materiality resulted in affiliation with the loose community of artists in the Dansaekhwa movement. While this focus on paper formed the basis of his artistic language his use of ink in way devoid of traditional expression pushed the artist concerns of his generation.
Kwon completed his undergraduate and graduate studies at Seoul National University and was a professor at Chung-Ang University before moving to Paris and the back to Seoul. Kwon was honored with the 1998 Korean Artist of the Year Award and in 2001 awarded the Silver Crown Medal of the Order of Cultural Merit. His works are in the permanent collection of the British Museum, Leeum Samsung Museum of Art, M+ Hong Kong, and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea.