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Born in Hongchun, Korea in 1944 Chun Kwang Young was educated in Korea and America, completing his formal education at Hong-lk University in Seoul and Philadelphia College of Art in 1971. His career spans around half a century and he is widely considered to be a master of paper-based art and installation.
Beginning his career in the US, Chun Kwang Young was influenced early on by the American Abstract Expressionists and their use of form and colour. However, after returning to Korea, he developed his own unique style which made direct reference to his cultural heritage. Today, Chun Kwang Young’s aesthetic vocabulary is defined by his abstract use of traditional Korean mulberry paper in his distinctive Aggregation series. Crafted from foam wrapped in Mulberry paper, or hanji, Chun creates large-scale freestanding and wall-hung reliefs reminiscent of rocky terrains or crystal formations. Many works give the appearance of almost otherworldly topographies, perhaps inspired by the Space Race of the 60s and 70s which the artist witnessed during his time in America. With the appearance of crevices and craters, his wall hung reliefs create an illusion of depth by employing tonal graduation to mimic light and dark.
Inspired by his childhood memories of medicine wrapped in mulberry paper, Chun Kwang Young’s abstract constructions bridge Korean traditions and Western Modernism. The development of this signature technique was sparked by Chun’s regular visits to his relative’s traditional Chinese pharmacy, where clusters of medicinal herbs wrapped in mulberry paper hung from the ceiling. Each piece is carefully dyed using natural extracts such as tea and clay, then wrapped and arranged individually in triangular forms to assemble the composition. The triangles of mulberry paper and discarded pages claimed from 100-year-old textbooks, provide the viewer with fragments of various topics. The pre-war textbooks are holistic in nature, containing Chinese and Korean characters and multiple subjects such as philosophy, mythology, medicine and chemistry. Chun says, “For me the old paper has a life. It contains the souls of the people who touched it. In a way, I’m wrapping the stories of people’s lives.” The highly durable mulberry paper is oil-repellent and thus lasted for many generations.
Chun Kwang Young lives and works in Boondang-gu, South Korea. His works can be found in numerous public collections worldwide including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Museum Kunstwerk, Germany, Malta National Museum and the National University Museum of Art in Seoul. His work has formed the subject of exhibitions in Singapore, Hong Kong, Düsseldorf and New York, including an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in 2018. Among his numerous accolades, he was named Artist of the Year by the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul in 2001 and awarded the Presidential Prize in the 41st Korean Culture and Art Prize in 2009.