Lee Ufan, the famed Korean artist, has become known as the master of the brushstroke. Considered to be one of the most influential painters in South Korea, as well as one of the most important artists working today, Lee has cultivated a distinct style and approach to the act of creation. One series in particular shines through - his Dialogue series.

Lee Ufan's 'Dialogue' (2014) at What's Up / Seoul '12 Masters'. Image courtesy of LVH Art.

Raised in a traditional household in a Korea torn by two consecutive wars, Lee Ufan practised the Confucian arts of painting, poetry, and calligraphy as a child before moving to Japan in 1958, where he studied philosophy. Lee is recognised for his unconventional artistic processes—which underscore relationships between viewer, artwork, and the spaces they inhabit—and for philosophical writings that explore these dynamics. Lee has cultivated an oeuvre which taps into concepts of the interconnectedness of consciousness and physical form. 

Image courtesy of Design Anthology

He refers to his artworks as ‘living structures’, taking a philosophical approach to creating them and viewing his raw materials and gestures as entities, each granting some insight into our own lives and our relationship to the world around us. His Dialogue series has tapped into concepts exploring questions of process, material and spatial relationships. Ufan empowers the viewer to take a step back and reflect and meditate on the passage of time and accept that patience and attentiveness to beauty are natural and essential parts of the human experience.

Like the layered philosophy behind the Dialogue series, the preparation and process of creating his paintings is also deeply thought-out and ritualistic. Lee begins each Dialogue work by placing one to three touches of pigment, mixed with glue and crushed stone onto a crisp white canvas. Taking a large brush, Lee distills the act of painting into a solitary moment.

Image courtesy of Pace Gallery

Each painting is created in a highly controlled manner with brushstrokes that relate to the artist’s breath. Each work may take a month or more to complete, focusing on the resonance of space, colour, light, and tension. These paintings introduce gestural strokes as well as unaltered expressionistic elements, including dots and specks of paint. These forms invite communication from the viewer, completing the concept of a dialogue, this series’ name.

At its core, the Dialogue series strips away all the unnecessary facets of mark-making to focus the viewer’s attention on what is directly in front of them. According to Lee, he does not begin his creative process with an idea or image he needs to express; rather he feels he is the conductor of his materials, an equal to them, communicating with the canvas or sculptural objects to create his works.