Marking the 30th anniversary of O Yoon’s death, Gana Art Gallery has organized an exhibition in his memory. The exhibition will give the opportunity to listen to “O Yoon’s utterances” through his woodcut prints from his living years, which demonstrate the true value of his art. But the core of this exhibition will be the “opening of undiscovered drawings.” More than 100 drawings were selected from O’s sketch books, which had been hidden away in the possession of one of his relatives. These drawings have great significance as they confirm the prototypes of O’s art. The main subject matter is people, which were later developed further into subject matter for his woodcut prints. Thus, the value of the newly excavated drawings is very high.
O Yoon considered it a very important process to build foundations and to explore prior to finalizing his works. While this was concluded according to his logical philosophy, it appeared above all in his drawing works. The process of the search to proceed to a unique world of art-in short, it was a “scene of tussle.” The thick sketchbook remaining today proves this fact. The drawings to be publicized in the exhibition are results of the artist’s “searching” years, when he was in his twenties. After graduating from the College of Arts, O Yoon worked with soil, at a brick factory and at a traditional kiln. In that process, he not only gained works made with the terra-cotta technique, but also built the foundation of “O Yoon’s art.” In his mid-20s, he made terra-cotta works for the Commerce Bank building together with his colleagues. In the course of his work, O Yoon also became a roommate of “last Shilla man Yoon Kyoung-Ryeol” in Gyeongju. This period, one of mutual understanding among his friends Yoon Kwang-Joo, Im Se-Taek and Oh Kyoung-Hwan, was around 1970-75. Their “searching” endeavors from those days are contained in the sketchbook. O Yoon, Im Se-Taek and Oh Kyoung-Hwan were also “comrades of a historical event,” as together during their college years (1969), they organized the “Hyunshildongin” exhibition, which ultimately failed, though the spirit remains as a declaration.
O Yoon’s drawings are characterized above all by their embodiment of dynamic energy. That is because he always pursued an energetic vitality in his picture-planes. To this end, he used diverse materials including pencil, colored pencil, crayon, brush and various colors. As Ki (life force) was an important aspect in the pictures, line drawing was used as the main method. He used line rather than plane, expressing the subjects with thick and powerful lines. Since he condensed the main characteristics of the subject into large masses, rather than depicting details, a sense of velocity was given. Thus, they are evaluated as dynamic.
Another characteristic of O Yoon’s drawings is that they are figure-centered. In general, landscape drawings, if not human figures in static postures, account for the majority of his sketches. But O focused his attention on “ordinary people,” rather than on nature, which also was a response to the situation of the times, when one could not be satisfied with unrealistic, pastoral landscapes. Such interest later led to his printmaking works, such as the “Dance” series and “Land” series. O’s works showed affection for the candid appearances of healthy ordinary people. The figures were diverse, from full-length portraits of men and women to face-only compositions, and nude figures with healthy bodies. Of course there were also works of animals such as tigers, and traditional subject matter such as Buddhist statues.
The exhibition commemorating the 30th anniversary of O Yoon’s death will be composed in the following format: With the artist’s representative woodcut prints at the center, the show will also feature the newly discovered drawings, oil paintings such as Tongil Deawondo, and sculptures. An important issue that must be addressed here is related to O Yoon’s prints made while he was alive and the posthumous reprints. “Posthumous prints” refers to the woodcut prints that were printed from the original blocks in large quantities by the artist’s family members and close friends during an exhibition commemorating the 10th anniversary of his death (1996, Hakgojae Gallery). Ordinarily the prints would be printed and completed by the artist personally. But because O Yoon did not consider his prints as commodities, he remained mostly indifferent to the practices of the printmaking market. He neither wrote edition numbers on the prints, nor bothered to leave signatures or identity markings on them. A few of his remaining works bear the title, the artist’s signature and his personal stamp; however, these must be seen as exceptions. Woodcuts in the era of the art movement were pure works of art rather than commodities. In this exhibition, only about 80 prints made while the artist was alive have been chosen to be shown from O’s family’s collection.
As an artist engaged in realism, O Yoon considered the function of language in art important. At the same time, he gave weight to the creative succession of tradition. O Yoon established a school of his own in the genre of woodcut printmaking, thus greatly influencing younger generations of artists. Ultimately he was documented as a symbolic artist in the art movement during the 1980s.
(Yoon Beom-Mo, Art Critic)