Lee Ufan - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Wednesday, June 22, 2022 | Phillips

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  • “The object before the eyes and the image in the mind are all constructed of points and lines, expressed in rhythm with the rising and falling of the breath. Because of this, the viewer…can observe the dynamic relationship between the painting and the canvas, the condition of the painter’s body, the movement of his heart, his character, and the atmosphere of the age.” 
    — Lee Ufan

    Line by Line


    Vertical and horizontal movements, fluctuation between positive and negative spaces, a constant choice of marking or unmarking, the simple composition of thirty-two repeatedly painted blue vertical lines reflects an art form that captures a constant contemplation on the truth of reality. Responding to the rapid industrialization of Japan during the 1970s, Korean Minimalist artist Lee Ufan turns away from Western notions of representation. He returns to calligraphy and Japanese Nihonga style of painting for inspiration, which traditionally uses ink and mineral pigments on paper or silk. From Line No. 790372 of 1979 is a great example of the artist’s early celebrated series concentrating on the method of repetition, of which he dedicated over ten years of his life between 1973 and 1984 in creating. This series has been exhibited internationally, including at the Guggenheim Museum, New York and the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto.



    Installation shot of Lee Ufan’s retrospective,
    Lee Ufan: Marking Infinity, 24 June - 28 September, 2011, Guggenheim Museum, New York

     “Before working, I calm my breathing, correct my posture, and hold my brush quietly.”
    — Lee Ufan

    As a leading member of the Japanese avant-garde movement Mono-ha (School of Things), Lee steers away from figurative pictorial imagery and creates minimalistic forms instead. The artist prepares simple raw materials by himself and specially hand mixes cobalt pigment with glue to create the rich blue hue. The artist rotates the canvas in 90 degrees and pulls horizontally from left to right. In the correct viewing orientation, the simultaneous calligraphic brushstrokes become vertical starting at the top, diminish gradually at the bottom as it runs thinner and fall off the lower edge of the canvas. The artificial hair of the brush maximises the friction between the brush and canvas to create the contrasting dragged textures of wet and dry paint. Following Japanese ink painting's strict philosophical principle of ikkaisei (irreversibility), Lee sweeps his brush with momentum in one single breath for each stroke. Fused with the artist’s rhythmic breath, the synchronising brushstrokes transcends the whole art making process to be a meditative ritual about being at the moment.


    “When the artwork feels like a living thing, that's when I let it go.”
    — Lee Ufan

    Man, Matter and Mind


    'A line must have a beginning and an end. Space appears within the passage of time and when the process of creating spaces comes to an end, time also vanishes.' Lee is a philosophical enthusiast on both Eastern and Western ideals, he sets up his unique theoretical point of view and artistic methodology. Along with Mono-ha, he explores the interaction and hierarchical relationship between man as the author and matter as his subject. In this dominating world of illusionary representations, the mind constantly changes which affects the artist and the matter he creates. From this constant flux, Lee liberates the materiality of the painting and the metaphysical space beyond that materiality through painterly absolution. The composition of  From Line No. 790372  literally reflects a faithful recording of the artist applying paint stroke by stroke in front of a canvas, but not a crafted image on how his mind perceives the world. It is raw, a canvas of truth that captures an emptied mind.


    “(A) mediating effect that empties out its surroundings and brings some kind of transcendence to the place where it is.”
    — Lee Ufan


    In search of a minimalistic expression, Abstract Expressionists are a source of inspiration for Lee Ufan. For example, Mark Rothkho’s colour field paintings. The hues of different shades of blue sitting on top of reds and oranges in Untitled (Red, Blue, Orange) forms a certain tranquil atmosphere that consumes the viewer - the longer they stare at the work, the more it stimulates imagination. Alive with individuality, each line From Line No. 790372 is unique with its own importance varying in thickness, rhythmically tracks constant new beginnings. The dynamic strokes form a simple yet emotional composition, similar to Rothko creating a space of its own and a relationship between the viewer - man, matter and mind.



    Mark Rothko, Untitled (Red, Blue, Orange), 1955
    © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    Growing up in a Confucian household in Korea, Lee started practising calligraphy when he was a child and developed a sophisticated skill for his artistic career. Painted with care, a thin strip of unpainted canvas is always left in between the lines. This brings to mind another important Abstract Expressionist Barnett Newman’s 'zip' paintings as a source of inspiration, which Lee encountered during his visit to New York in 1791. In Cathedra, Newman strives to create a space with a certain atmosphere. The white vertical line defines the spatial structure of the painting and splits the condensed blue canvas asymmetrically by a vertical line. The 'zip' creates a holy space with a tension that unites the two divided sides of the canvas, yet at the same time, splits them apart. In comparison, the unpainted canvas strips that are left blank in between the painted lines are Lee Ufan’s version of the 'zip' space in From Line No. 790372. They create a fluctuation between positive and negative spaces, a space between existence and non-existence. The act of painting thus creates a ritualistic meditative ambiance in a work of art that possesses a dramatic, yet exquisite simplicity and holy gracefulness.



    Barnett Newman, Cathedra, 1951
    Collection of the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
    © 2022 Barnett Newman Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 
    • Provenance

      Takagi Gallery, Nagoya
      Himawari Gallery, Tokyo (acquired from the above in 1996)
      Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1998)
      Private Collection (acquired from the above in 2009)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner


From Line No. 790372

signed and dated 'L.UFAN 79' lower right; further signed and titled '"From line NO. 790372." Lee Ufan' on the reverse
oil and mineral pigment on canvas
135.2 x 166.8 cm. (53 1/4 x 65 5/8 in.)
Executed in 1979.

Full Cataloguing

HK$9,000,000 - 14,000,000 

Sold for HK$11,140,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 22 June 2022