Suh had a clear understanding of the rendering of space in Western modern art and was familiar with many modern abstract paintings. Therefore, It is possible to view Suh's pictorial space, both real and abstract, within the context of the modern Western style. According to Pierre Francastek, one of the keys to understanding modern form is the pictorialization of space. In this respect, understanding the pictorialization of space in Suh’s work is important.
Despite Suh’s deep understanding of Western art, it is crucial to realize that his style is not a break from Eastern tradition. In fact, Eastern tradition is his departure point which allows him to encounter abstract space of modern paintings. Western painters invented cubism to break away from the geometric projections of the Renaissance tradition. After cubism came the renewed efforts to depict the three-dimensional world on two-dimensional space. Abstract painting took this one step further to place abstract symbols, such as the arabesque, on two-dimensional space. Abstract paintings do not depict perspective, this does not mean that all allusions of spatial depth are rejected. For instance, in abstract paintings reminiscent of Zao OuKi’s landscapes, we sense the depth of the vast plains of China, while Franz Klein paintings conjure up images of the American West. Nevertheless, in abstract oil paintings, no matter how much open space the canvas has, we sense the limit to the space. On the contrary, in the ink paintings of Suh, despite the absence of colors to create the illusion of depth, we are aware of a space without limits. The works of Pa-ta shan-jen and Mu-ch’i are good examples of how ideographics are placed within unlimited space.
What makes Suh’s work exceptional is how he expresses his objects in a figurative and abstract manner, thereby rendering both a realistic limit and mystic limitlessness in his pictorial space. It is inevitable that we compare Matisse’s Dance with Suh’s Group Dance. The pictorial space of Matisse is a systematic approach to expressing circular space, previously attempted by Duffy in Sunday. It can be viewed as an effort to break away from the geometric projections of the Renaissance tradition.
Suh’s concept of pictorial space is based on the traditional unlimited space of Eastern art, so it would be difficult to say that the background in Dancing people is simply the ground on which the dancers are in fact writing on. Or even an unlimited cosmic space in which the figures are thrown into to fill with activity and vitality.
-Art Critic, JEUNG Biong-Kwan