May 14 - June 20, 2020
Located at the foot of the mountains, a few hundred kilometers away from Daegu (the capital city of this center-east region), Yeongyang is a small city of South-Korea. Its downhill fields are exclusively used to grow tobacco and pepper. This context would be rather insignificant if it was not the origin of Nam Tchun-Mo’s work. When asked where his obsession for lines, more specifically furrows, and light comes from -the recurring elements of his work- the latter spontaneously and unequivocally recalls growing up looking at these fields, and the impression of the lines drawn by the furrows and their crests on the ground. Besides, the artist always felt drawn to mattnesses, reflections as well as the mirror effects of the big black plastic tarps that covered the plantations to create a greenhouse effect that kept the heat. It helps shed some light, if we may say, on the work of this artist who precisely uses color and play on light and shadow as his magic lantern.
This is how line appeared in his work. In all its forms: dots, planes, volumes, grooves, tridimensional, flat or edged, straight or broken, white, black and colorful. A stroke here, a hatching there, tremored, vertical, horizontal, and even diagonal sometimes: the line channels the eye and draws a visual path. A thread to follow in the maze of Nam Tchun-Mo’s mostly geometrical compositions. Yet his line does not wander or drift. On the contrary, it is ordinated, even x-coordinated, directed, controlled and contained by the medium it is made of.
Nam Tchun-Mo makes his inverted “T” lines with resin, cutting stripes based on his intended compositions and then painting them in various colors according to a monochromatic principle, whether red, green, blue, white or beige. However, the stillness of Nam Tchun-Mo’s line is a mere (optical) illusion. When paying close attention to his works, we quickly realize that everything is in motion. First the lines themselves, which, contradicting the rule that parallels never meet, sometimes seem to merge at their ends, depending on the viewers’ point of view. But the edges of the lines also catch the light in different ways. And the shade cast by the furrows vary too, depending on how the light falls on their crests. The plays on colors also introduce changing effects of vibration, depth and impression depending on each piece monochromatic hue. Sometimes looking like flat tints, as if lit up from above, and sometimes like cast shadows, as if the sun was going down, the hues take different sides and turns.
Nam Tchun-Mo’s use of monochromes, his relationship to nature, his obsession with mediums and his repetitive gestures obviously originate in the principles of Dansaekhwa as set by Park Seo-Bo, one of the eminent members of this art movement from the 70s (alongside Ha Chong-Hyun and Chung Sang-Hwa), of which Nam Tchun-Mo seems to be a proud heir (as well as Lee Bae, as another example). But like all the artists of the second Dansaekhwa generation (meaning “monochrome” or “Korean monochrome”), Nam Tchun-Mo broke free from the movement, never intending to reproduce or repeat its concepts. Instead, he pushes them further to open new fields of experimentation and perspectives within a very different contemporary framework, looking to turn his lines into landscapes.
Henri-François Debailleux, March 2020
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