Tucked away between Jermyn Street and St. James’s Square the White Cube Gallery is not the easiest to stumble across in London. You have to know it’s there to go there. As it happens to be next to the library I try and pop in whenever they have a new show but have been rather neglectful of late. Fortunately it started raining as soon as I got out of the door yesterday and rather than ducking back inside to the books I stepped in to the white stark of the Cube instead.
Inside they are currently showing the work of Park Seo-Bo, an artist of whom I knew precisely nothing before yesterday. He was a revelation. Minimilism is his thing; his technique involves painting a canvas white then making regular marks in pencil in the paint in a single sitting before it has had time to dry. The finished product is reminiscent of the American Abstract Expressionists while being wholly original.
To get an idea of the beauty of Park’s canvases you really have to see them in the flesh. Like Frank Auerbach (currently on show at Tate Britain – highly recommended if you haven’t been) a photograph can’t render the texture of the paintings – a texture that varies from work to work – the paint thicker or less evenly applied, some areas of the canvas left bare, and the looseness or tightness of the pencil marks creating entirely different moods. In fact the gesture of the pencil marks in the paint reminded me of music. While Park calls them Ecritures numbered individually one might equally describe them in musical terms such as legato or agitato.
In the handout it is said that Park is interested in reaching a sense of ‘pure emptiness’ to whose effect his use of white – ‘a signifier of immateriality’ – is fundamental. For myself, I find that the best abstract paintings create a blankness, a space in which the mind can wander which it then fills with attempts to cohere the abstraction into something more meaningful, if only as a sensual experience. Park’s work to me seems entirely about nature. For example one of them, whose lower quarter was rough with unprimed canvas, was suggestive to me of a landscape with a horizon supporting sparse arabesques that might be clouds or lights in the sky.
My favourite is on the left in the photograph below. In this shot it looks rather anodyne but when you’re sitting in front of it it buzzes and hums with rhythm and energy, like a tidal pattern on a shallow beach. I can’t recommend this show highly enough for 30 minutes of contemplation away from the sales, the noise and the rain in the West End. The receptionist was friendly and the gallery is free to visit.
Blue Badge guide to London and academic specialising in early twentieth century history. Blogging on history, academia, and food and culture in the capital (and occasionally elsewhere).