biography contact

Serendipitous Encounter

- Choi Young Wook and His Moon Jar Paintings

Chia Chi Jason Wang

Over the past seven years, the Korean painter Choi Young Wook (1964-) has consistently adopted the moon jar – a porcelain vessel in vogue among the general Korean public during the late Joseon dynasty (1392-1910) – as the principal subject of his paintings, gradually gaining international attention. According to Choi’s own recollections, some time ago when he was still groping to find his own style and mode of expression, he chanced upon a Joseon-era moon jar in a museum while traveling in Europe and the United States. The sight aroused in him a sense of deja vu, as if he were experiencing something intimate yet unfamiliar.
This serendipitous encounter spurred him to start painting white porcelain moon jars, and also to research and collect them.

In reality, long before moon jars began appearing in Choi Young Wook’s paintings, white porcelain was an important traditional artistic asset passed down from the Joseon dynasty, influencing and inspiring several well-known modern and contemporary Korean artists. Modernist pioneer Kim Whan-ki (1913-1974), who excels at abstract art, is one of the more prominent examples. Veteran contemporary ceramicist Park Young-sook (1949-) directly carries on the tradition of Joseon white porcelain, having revived the style of moon jars and their firing techniques, which at one time had been lost. In recent years and particularly since 2006, well-known photographer Koo Bohn-chang (1953-) has also made white porcelain, especially moon jars, a major subject of his photos, exploring them as a possible form of contemporary artistic expression.

The rise of Joseon white porcelain was actually influenced by Ming-dynasty China. By the middle of the 15th century, it had developed its own distinctive ethnic spirit and aesthetic, and had even become the exclusive purview of the royal court. According to scholarly texts, in the early 15th century, when the Joseon Dynasty was first being established as a Confucian kingdom, King Sejong (1397-1450) commanded that white porcelain replace the luxurious and exorbitant gold and silver implements the court had originally been accustomed to using. Thereafter, the king founded a royal kiln, dedicated to producing utensils for the “internal use” of the royal household, and commencing the “golden age of white porcelain.”

1 From the late 15th century to the early 17th century, the Joseon royal court banned the use of white porcelain by all except royalty, and dignitaries from the Ming court. In 1616 the crown partially lifted the ban, permitting the gentry to use sang baekja (“common” white porcelain), a form of white porcelain rougher in quality than that used by royalty.

2 Current scholarship indicates that due to the strict class divisions of traditional Korean society, commoners were never officially allowed to use white porcelain even at the end of the Joseon dynasty, and when they did, they did so privately and illicitly. Yet the very existence of this injunction reflects how broadly the beauty of white porcelain was coveted throughout Joseon society, regardless of a person’s social position. The scholar Cheng Chi-jen, a specialist in Joseon white porcelain, states concretely: “White porcelain was a product that reflected the aesthetic of Confucian political thought: the pursuit of cleanliness and purity, an emphasis on morality and a love of nature.”

3 Most of the white moon jars still extant from the Joseon dynasty may be dated to sometime in the 17th or 18th centuries and are likely to be of the “common” sang baekja variety, not the more refined ware exclusive to royalty. They thus reflect the tastes and ideals of the gentry, or even the hoi polloi. The mingei (“folk crafts”) movement of early twentieth-century Japan, which was influenced and inspired by Britain’s folk crafts movement, particularly appreciated white Joseon porcelain for its “lack of self-consciousness” and “the beauty of its slight imperfection.”

4 These are expressed in the materials used to produce the moon jars – through defects in the clay and glaze – as well as their forms: Because the vessels are made by joining upper and lower sections, the center bulge of the jar where the two halves meet protrudes slightly, resulting in a shape that is never perfectly spherical, concretely manifesting the figurative truth that reality falls short of our ideals. Indeed, this state of imperfection or geometrical incompleteness reflects the most realistic and natural conditions of human life, just as the acclaimed Song-dynasty poet Su Dongpo famously wrote:
How long will the full moon last?... Men have sorrow and joy; they part and meet again. The moon brightens and dims, waxes and wanes. Nothing has been perfect since the days of old.
The first Western arts specialist to notice and collect Joseon white porcelain was the British ceramicist Bernard Leach (1887-1979). At the time he was personally involved in Japan’s mingei movement. In 1935 he set off from Japan to visit Korea and purchased a moon jar in an antique shop in Seoul. Later, he brought it back to England, and his own work was influenced by its manufacture. For a period of more than 60 years, this work was passed from collector to collector, finally joining the permanent collection of the British Museum in 1999.

5 Perhaps Leach’s attention and promotion encouraged some Western museums that collected East Asian art to take interest in moon jars. According to the British Museum’s exhibit information, only around 20 Joseon moon jars remain in the entire world.

6 In addition to the one currently at the British Museum, both the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Art Institute of Chicago hold one in their collections. Somewhat ironically but quite clearly, it was especially serendipitous that just when Choi Young Wook was struggling to find his personal artistic style, he chanced upon a moon jar at MOMA, far from the shores of Korea, and because of this encounter determined his creative path, setting off on the road to artistic maturity. According to general understanding, white porcelain moon jars were originally used to store white rice, soy sauce or wine, and sometimes they served as flower vases.

7 As historical objects that embodied the Confucian ethics and aesthetics of the Joseon dynasty, Choi Young Wook saw in them the unpretentious beauty of the life of ordinary folk. In his artist’s statement “Images of Memories,” he described them thusly: “The moon-jar’s shape and color tones are unaffected and simple, and it is akin to ‘cheuk-eun-ji-shim (惻隱之心),’ a traditional reference meaning the natural sympathy or compassion that comes from the bottom of one’s heart.”

8 One can see that in the moon jar, Choi Young Wook discovered an aesthetic of human relations that could be extended to the moral values of Confucianism.
In the real world, white porcelain changes over time: Weathered by history and life, caressed by human hands, bathed by water and rubbed by cloth for long years, its surface transforms and even becomes scuffed. The “whiteness” of its exterior takes on a completely different quality from its original whiteness when fresh from the kiln. Permeated with the scars of life, the crackled glaze on the exterior of the moon jar often increases in the complexity of its fractured patterns, yielding an intermingling of the new with the old. Choi extends the moon jar’s many minute changes wrought by time to signify the universal life memories that humanity collectively shares. The crackled patterns of the glaze thus become a symbol of the mutual connections of fate, which he encompasses under the term “karma.” Choi himself writes:
The Work ‘Karma’ has a focal meaning in the drawing of lines. The lines are not realistic representations of hairline cracks on the surface of porcelains. They are the paths upon our life journey. Those lines I depict continue yet different, and we can be unified into one despite these differences.

9 Thus, through the brush of Choi Young Wook, the moon jar and its dense, intricate crackled patterns are transformed with rich sensuality into a vehicle for metaphorical images of life or the twists of fate.
While Joseon moon jars, the only visual image in his paintings, give the viewer the impression of photorealistic reproduction, Choi is actually intent upon transcending mere imitation. Starting from the foundation of his training in Western oil painting, he has incorporated materials and styles from traditional East Asian painting, to express in minute detail the special qualities of a moon jar’s glaze and crackled fissures. To render the form of the moon jar on the canvas, he applies a specially mixed resin in multiple layers, quite reminiscent of the techniques and concepts of traditional Chinese lacquering, achieving a realistic, semi-transparent, glossy effect. Simultaneously, within this glaze that is smooth yet possesses thickness, he allows the viewer to gaze and muse upon the lines of fate, either distinct or implicit, that he has painstakingly woven with meticulous brushstrokes. But he does not stop there: In many of the works completed with these techniques, images of landscapes shrouded in clouds or dense smoke can also often be glimpsed, vaguely yet undeniably, on the glazed faces of the vessel, stirring thoughts of ancient times.
Choi’s repeated application of a specially prepared glaze to his paintings evokes associations with the well-known contemporary American artists Jasper Johns (1930-) and Brice Marden (1938-), who applied wax to some of their early paintings. According to the records of the ancient Romans, encaustic painting, which employed beeswax as a medium, got its start in ancient Greece and enjoyed popularity throughout the Hellenistic and Roman eras. The best known ancient encaustic paintings remaining today are mummy portraits painted on wooden slats. Johns is known as an innovative contemporary revivalist of encaustic painting, which Marden continued and developed, and afterward it became a common technique of contemporary art. The younger Spanish contemporary artist Jose Maria Cano (1959-), for example, is one master of encaustic techniques. In encausting painting, wax and pigment are melted together into a single liquid that, when applied, gives the picture the quality of being coated in a layer, as if it is a sealed-up, objectified specimen. Even if they do not use wax, many artists apply synthetic resin, spraying it on canvases or the surfaces of printed images, achieving a readily visible thickness or sense of protrusion. The application of this technique creates a visual sense of invoking in the viewer a psychological sense of suffocation, asphyxiation, or even death.
While many Western contemporary artists have employed the material physicality of wax or synthetic resins to highlight the crisis of the materialization of values brought about by Western industrial capitalism, Choi Young Wook’s intention is to call for a return to humanistic values and respect for nature, history and tradition. Put concretely, while Choi uses resin similarly, building up multiple layers to attain a certain thickness and simulate the texture of the transparent glazed surface of white porcelain, both the visual and psychological effects are clearly different. Whether or not he is aware of it himself, the white porcelain glazed surfaces that appear in his paintings manifest a warm sense of breathability and emit their own aureolas, just like the moon for which they are named. What is essential to notice are the comparative sizes of actual moon jars and Choi’s painted images – while the diameters at the center bulges of most extant jars generally range between 30 and 40 centimeters, the vast majority of Choi’s paintings are much larger in scale. Perhaps because of this theatrical act of magnification, the viewer may readily infer that in his forms and strategies Choi has appropriated the legacy of the American photorealism movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. This, however, is merely a superficial coincidence; Choi’s artistic spirit and aesthetic pursuits are in fact completely different.
American photorealism relied principally on photographs, enlarging the images as paintings, and thus underscoring the camera lens’s special mechanistic – even distortive – effect. At the same time, because these paintings greatly magnified the details in photos, retaining even the tiniest feature, this produced an effect of homogenization and flattening that made the works feel cold and distant. In this way the artists dramatically conveyed or reflected the alienation and aloofness common in modern capitalist society. But Choi’s desires are obviously different, his objectives completely opposite. When reproducing the form of the moon jar, he has perhaps benefited from the aid of photography; nonetheless, his intention is not to produce cold severity, nor to convey the alienation and distance of modernity. When it comes to the imitation of the moon jar’s external form, his works at first blush genuinely do have the visual effect of photorealism, yet when the viewer begins to pay attention to the minute cracks depicted in fine brushwork, it is not hard to discover that these are completely his own original abstract expression. In the context of subjective grasp and the complex convergence of conscious, subconscious and unconscious, the cracked lines of the moon jar provide more than a verisimilitude of the artist’s “perception of the object”; in reality, they are personal images of his own creating. What he pursues is the spirit of nature informed by his individual mental landscape. What he pursues is the profundity of life. What he hopes to do is seek a place where he may humbly stand on his own within an eternal time and space, and also to build a relationship with others and the world. Following a similar line of thought, the Korean artist Yoon Jin-sup finds in Choi Young Wook’s painting a form of discipline identical to the aesthetic perspective of the well-known dansaekhwa (“monochrome painting”) movement of the 1970s and 1980s.

10 Certainly, Choi Young Wook’s ultimate objective is not to depict any specific, material jar of white porcelain in the real world, or to engage in the reproduction of images, even though his technique renders his subject matter strikingly lifelike. He may select a specific vessel as a subject for replication, in order to grasp the form of the jar and the semi-transparent layered effect of the glaze, or its crackled fissures. Yet as he has honed his technique over the course of seven years, becoming ever more refined, and in particular as he has integrated East Asian tradition with the expressive methods of Western modern painting, the Joseon moon jar has evolved under the brush of Choi Young Wook beyond a reflection or recreation of a single “particular” and has been sublimated as a study or creation of the universal.
Choi Young Wook confidently defines his works as images of his memories and the story of his own life.

11 Because of the serendipitous encounter caused by “karma,” white porcelain moon jars have become the subject of his deep musing, and the vehicle through which he paints the “images of his recollections.” By borrowing an object, he has glimpsed the heart. Choi has not only grasped the traditional Confucian aesthetic embodied in the moon jar, but also deliberately and actively bestowed on it a new symbolic significance. In the language of Buddhism, “karma” is a concept related to the cycle of cause and effect, a belief in the transmigration of the soul and a recognition that past lives, this life and the lives to come all evolve from karmic causes and from fate, which no person may elude. In his artworks, the road of life with its countless, confusing side paths has became a journey of destiny in which the self is inseparable from others. Perhaps fate has no pessimistic implications. Understood from a different angle, if we were to transform the concept of “karma” into the experience of the contemporary predicament of “globalization,” perhaps it would no longer be so mysterious and impenetrable. Ultimately, the many ecological crises imperiling our survival which we face in the age of globalization are the accretion of humanity’s collective past, and the fate we all must shoulder together. They are our karmic legacy, and our karmic connection.
Put more precisely, within this “universal” of the white porcelain moon jar, Choi Young Wook slowly, patiently depicts one image after another with the unique individual life philosophy and vision of an artist, and while the traces of each image seem discernible, in fact it is impossible to map the trajectory of its life in advance. Among the interweaving crackled seams, the viewer clearly sees a network of lines that form a plane, as if the atlas of a person’s fate, or a portrait of the complexities of an interpersonal relationship, or a microcosm of the human condition in the age of globalization. Here, metaphorically transformed by the artist, the white moon jars become vessels of life. The predestination and open-endedness of life, the possibilities and impossibilities, enter the viewer’s eyes, half-hidden yet manifest, as a patterned form like an abstract code, testing our ability to glimpse invisible spirit and wisdom.


- 崔永旭與他的月亮罐畫作


過去七年多來,韓國畫家崔永旭(Choi Young-wook, 1964-)持續以朝鮮王朝 (1392-1910)後期盛行於民間的白瓷「月亮罐」(moon jar),作為他畫中的主要 形象,並逐漸在國際間引起注意。崔永旭自己提到,稍早仍在摸索個人風格與表 現時,曾於西方的博物館偶見展示中的朝鮮月亮罐,使他產生既熟悉又陌生的似 曾相識感。此一因緣際會促動了他開始描繪白瓷月亮罐的契機,同時,也展開他 個人對於月亮罐的鑽研及收藏興趣。

事實上,早在崔永旭以月亮罐入畫之前,白瓷作為朝鮮王朝傳世重要的傳統藝術 資產,已經對韓國知名的一些現代以至當代藝術家產生過重要的美學啟示與影 響。以抽象藝術見長的現代主義先鋒金煥基(Kim Whan-ki, 1913-1974)是最知名 的一位。當代資深的陶瓷藝術家朴英淑(Park Young-sook, 1949-)更是直接繼承 朝鮮白瓷的傳統,重振原已失傳的月亮罐燒製技術及風格。作為當代藝術表現的 一種可能,知名的攝影家具本昌(Koo Bohn-chang, 1953-)在近年來,尤其是 2006 年之後,也以白瓷,尤其是月亮罐的意象,作為重要的拍攝主題。

朝鮮白瓷的崛起固然受到中國明朝的影響,到了 15 世紀中期已經確立自己所屬 的民族精神與美學,甚至成為宮廷的禁臠。根據學者考證,朝鮮王朝以儒學治國, 在立朝之初,世宗(在位 1397-1450)於 15 世紀初期,下令以白瓷替代宮廷原本 慣用的奢侈且高價位的金銀器,之後並開闢「中央官窯」,專為王室燒製「內用」 瓷器,就此開啟了「白瓷的黃金時代」。 1 15 世紀後期至 17 世紀初期,朝鮮王 室更頒佈「白瓷使用禁令」,只許宮中和來自明朝的使臣使用。直到 1616 年之後, 方才有條件地開放並允許士大夫使用「常白磁」──亦即有別於御用白瓷的較粗 糙白瓷。

2 已知的研究指出,韓國傳統社會由於階級區別嚴明,即使到了朝鮮王 朝末期,從未正式允許庶民百姓使用白瓷;若有,也是民間違禁私用。無論如何, 大致反映朝鮮時期,無論社會階級高低,人們對於白瓷之美的追求。專研朝鮮白 瓷的學者成耆仁更具體地指出:「白瓷為朝鮮以儒家為政治思想,追求清廉、潔 白、重道德和愛自然的審美背景之下的產物。」

3 傳世已知的朝鮮月亮罐的年代,大多推溯至 17 至 18 世紀左右,很可能就是屬於 宮中御用精緻白瓷之外的「常白磁」脈絡,反映了士大夫乃至於庶民的品味理想。 20 世紀初期,受英國工藝運動影響而發想的日本「民藝」(Mingei)運動團體, 就已經注意到朝鮮白瓷的美感。他們在其中看到了一種「毫不做作」(lack of self-consciousness)的特質,以及「略帶不完美之美」(the beauty of its slight imperfection)。

4 表現在月亮罐的製作上,不但胎土和釉色展現了材質上的不盡 完美,同時,由於器型分上下兩段接組而成,中間腹部銜接的地帶略見突起,名 副其實地呈顯其不完全圓滿的事實。也正是這種不完美或不盡圓滿的狀態,反映 了人生在世最真實且自然的情境,猶如中國宋代大詩人蘇東坡(1037-1101)著 名詩句的寫照:「明月幾時有?……人有悲歡離合,月有陰晴圓缺,此事古難全」。
西方世界最早注意到朝鮮白瓷並加以收藏的專業人士,當屬英國陶藝家李奇 (Bernard Leach, 1887-1979)。當時,他正投入日本「民藝」運動。1935 年,他 從日本走訪韓國,在首爾一家骨董店裡收購了一件月亮罐,之後攜回英國,並對 其創作產生了影響。在長達六十餘年的歷程中,這件作品經過輾轉收藏,最終於 1999 年進入大英博物館,成為永久典藏品。

5 或許正是因為李奇的注意與推廣, 鼓勵了一些蒐藏東亞藝術的西方博物館對月亮罐的興趣。大英博物館的展出資訊 指出,全世界僅存的朝鮮白瓷月亮罐總數不過 20 件左右;

6 除了大英博物館目 前收藏的這一件,紐約大都會美術館和芝加哥藝術學院美術館也各有收藏。雖然 不無反諷,但明顯也是一種奇特的巧遇,正當崔永旭苦思個人藝術風格之時,竟 然在紐約大都會美術館與離散在韓國海外的月亮罐偶然邂逅,從此確認了自己的 創作道路,並邁向成熟之路。

7 作 為體現朝鮮儒家道德美學的歷史之物,崔永旭在月亮罐當中看到了一種素樸的庶 民生活美感。他在以〈記憶圖像〉(Images of Memories)為名的創作自述當中, 做了這樣的描述:「月亮罐的形體和色調不造作且質樸,這種質地一如傳統所說 的人皆有『惻隱之心』(cheuk-eun-ji-shim),意即人內心底層都具有與生俱來的 同情心或憐憫之心。」

8 由此可見,崔永旭也在白瓷月亮罐身上看到了一種可以 引申為儒家道德價值的人倫美感。
現實世界當中,受過歷史與生活洗禮的白瓷,久經人們手的接觸、水的盥洗,以 及布的擦拭,出現了表面的變化,甚至磨損,外表的「白」早已不是最原初窯燒 完成時的「白」。再者,月亮罐外表所見的釉面開片,往往也因為生活痕跡的浸 透,使裂紋變得更為複雜且新舊雜陳。崔永旭將白瓷月亮罐因生活與歲月所致的 種種細微變化,進一步引申為普世人類共有的生命記憶,甚至將釉面的開片裂紋 類比成一種命運彼此相連的象徵,並以「緣」(karma)字涵蓋稱之。他寫道:「『緣』 作品中的線描有其中心意涵。那些線條並不是瓷器表面如髮絲般的開片裂紋的寫 實再現,而是生命旅程中的途徑。我所描繪的線條既連續也分裂,在某個點上重 逢之後,又再分離。一如我們彼此相近,卻又顯著不同;儘管彼此差異,又能夠 合為一體。」

9 於是,經過崔永旭畫筆的轉化,白瓷月亮罐及其綿密、細緻的開 片紋路,極富感性地成了隱喻人生或命運際遇的形象載體。
雖然以朝鮮白瓷月亮罐作為畫中唯一的視覺意象,給觀者一種他是以照相寫實風 格作為再現的印象,崔永旭其實更有意於跳脫摹仿。為了細膩表現白瓷月亮罐特 有的釉光與開片裂紋效果,他在西方油畫訓練的基礎之上,同時融入東亞傳統繪 畫的媒材與畫風。他以特別調製的膠,針對畫面上的月亮罐形體,逐層佈施與塗 覆,近乎中國傳統脫胎髹漆的工法概念,直到營造出一種逼真的半透明溫潤釉光 效果;同時,還要讓觀者能夠在具有厚度的平滑釉面之中,清晰或是若隱若現地 凝視並沈思他以細緻的筆法,所精心勾勒與羅織成形的命運之紋。不僅如此,以 此技法完成的許多作品當中,往往還昭然若揭地可在瓷器的釉面之中,依稀目睹 籠罩在雲霧或氤氳大氣之中的山水圖景,引人發思古之幽情。
崔永旭以特製的膠反覆佈塗畫面的做法,也讓人想起美國當代藝術名家瓊斯 (Jasper Johns, 1930-)和馬爾登(Brice Marden, 1938-)早年以蠟入畫的一些作 品。根據古羅馬人的記載,蠟畫法(encaustic)以蜜蠟(beewax)為材質,始創 於古希臘,盛行於希臘化以至古羅馬時期。傳世最有名的古代蠟畫,主要應用於 繪製在木板上的木乃伊畫像(mummy portraits)。瓊斯堪稱當代重拾蠟畫的創新 者,馬爾登繼續加以發揮,從此成為當代藝術常見的技法。較為年輕的西班牙當 代藝術家卡諾(Jose Maria Cano, 1959-),更是專以蠟畫見長的知名案例。蠟畫法 以熱融的方式讓蠟和顏料合為一體,同時為畫面賦予一層包覆的質感;藉此,畫 作彷彿被封裝為物件化的標本一般。即使不是用蠟,還有更多藝術家運用工業合 成樹脂,澆注在畫面或輸出的影像表層,營造出明顯或突出的厚度。此一技法的 運用,形塑了視覺的距離感;畫面與畫作本身有如被凝結或冰封一般,使觀者的 心理萌生一種失去呼吸的阻絕、窒息,甚至死亡感。
如果說西方當代藝術家多半運用蠟或合成樹脂的材質物性,來凸顯西方工業資本 主義所帶來的價值物化危機,崔永旭有心召喚的則是對於人文價值的回歸,以及 對於自然、歷史與傳統的敬重。具體而言,崔永旭使用層層築起,同樣也有一定 厚度的膠,模擬出白瓷表層透明釉光的質感,其視覺與心理效果均有明顯不同。 不管自覺與否,他畫中所見的白瓷釉面展現了一種溫潤的呼吸感,而且自有光 暈,一如「月亮」之名。有必要注意的是,已知的月亮罐大小,腹徑一般多在三 十至四十多公分之譜;崔永旭絕大多數畫作的尺幅,卻遠遠超出月亮罐實際的規 格。或許正是這種戲劇性的放大手段,很容易令觀者以為他沿襲了 1960 年代末 期至 1970 年代前期美國照相寫實主義畫家的形式策略及遺緒。然而,這不過是 表面的巧合,崔永旭創作的精神和美學追求其實迥異其趣。
美國照相寫實主義主要仰賴照片,畫家以繪畫放大其影像時,凸顯了相機鏡頭特 有的機械──甚至扭曲──效果;同時,照片細節以繪畫手法高倍放大之後,鉅 細靡遺地呈現了均質化和扁平化的冷峻效果。藉此,藝術家戲劇性傳達或反映了 資本主義現代社會常見的人性疏離與冷漠。而崔永旭的訴求明顯不同,目的也完 全相反。在再現月亮罐的形象時,也許他曾經藉助於攝影輔助;然而,他的意圖 不是製造冷峻,更非彰顯現代性所致的疏離和冷漠。雖然在月亮罐表形的描摹 上,他的作品乍看之時,確實給人如照相寫實的視覺效果,等到觀者開始注意他 工筆細描的開片紋路時,並不難發現,那完全是他匠心獨運的抽象表現。在主觀 的掌控與複雜的意識、潛意識、無意識的匯流之間,月亮罐的開片紋理提供的只 是畫家「應物象形」的假象;實際上,那早已是他個人師心自創的畫面。他追求 的是一種以個人心景為依歸的自然精神,追求的是生命的雋永,更希望的是在永 恆的時空中,謙卑地追索一己的立足之地,同時建立與他人和世界的關係。循著 類似的脈絡,韓國藝評家尹晉燮(Yoon Jin-sup)也從崔永旭身上印證了一種克己 自律的繪畫行為,認為與韓國 1970 年代至 1980 年代著名的「單色畫」 (Dansaekhwa)藝術運動的美學觀如出一轍。

10 毫無疑義的是,崔永旭最終的目的並不在於針對傳世已見的任何一件白瓷月亮 罐,進行形象上的複製,儘管在技法上他表現得栩栩如真。為了掌握月亮罐的形 制、釉色的半透明層次,以及開片裂紋的軌跡,他或許確曾以特定的瓷罐作為模 擬的對象。然而,經過七年的歷練,隨著技法的純熟洗鍊,尤其結合了東亞傳統 與西方現代繪畫的表現方式,崔永旭畫筆下的朝鮮白瓷月亮罐早已從單一或特定 「殊相」的對應與再現,昇華為一種普遍「共相」的揣摩及創造。 崔永旭自言其作品乃是他個人生命回憶與故事的寫照。

11 因「緣」際會,白瓷 月亮罐成為他沈思的對象,亦是他繪寫「記憶圖像」的載體。借物見心,崔永旭 除了看到白瓷月亮罐所體現的儒家傳統美德,更有意且積極地賦予其新的象徵意 涵。「緣」作為佛教語,屬於一種因果循環的概念,相信輪迴轉世,認定前世、 今生與來世的演變自有其因緣與宿命,非凡人所能超越。表現在他作品當中,分 歧雜沓的生命途徑譜成了自我與他者難以分割的命運旅程,也許宿命,卻無悲觀 的影射。從另一個角度理解,如果將「緣」的概念轉化為對當代「全球化」處境 的體認,或許就不再那麼神祕而不可知。畢竟,吾人在全球化時代所面臨的各種 攸關存亡維續的生態危機,正是過往人類集體的積累,也是我們必須共同承擔的 命運──是因緣,也是業緣。
更明確地說,崔永旭藉著「白瓷月亮罐」這一「共相」,以藝術家個人獨特的生 命哲學視野和觀照,緩慢而耐心地勾繪出一幅幅看似有跡可循,卻又不可能預先 命定的生命輿圖。在開片裂紋所交織出來的軌跡之間,觀者明顯地看到了一種由 「線」鋪設成「面」的「網絡」,既像是人自身命運的圖譜,也有如人與人關係 複雜的寫照,更是全球化時代人類情境的縮影。在此,經過崔永旭的轉喻之後, 白瓷月亮罐成為生命的容器,人生的宿命與開放性,可能與不可能,都以抽象密 碼般的紋路形式,似隱若現地映入觀者的眼簾,考驗著人們不可見的心靈與智慧 之眼。

The Image of the Moon

-Jar as the Epitome of Life

Jin Sup Yoon (Art Critic, Professor at Honam University)


The moon-jar (spelt as dalhangari in Korean), roundish and bulging in the middle, was named after its resemblance to the shape of the moon. It reminds you of the image of a full moon up afloat in the dark night sky on the first full moon day of the lunar calendar. The circular disk, as time goes by, is fated to be asymmetrical with one corner of it receding and tapering dint by dint. There could have been, I presume, a remote association between the unbalanced and plump form of the moon and the shape of a pot; the naming came from a sort of emotional response. The moon-jar, having been descended from the Chosun Dynasty does not have a perfectly circular appearance, which is rather different from its Chinese or Japanese counterpart. The Chinese or Japanese porcelains have different colours, whereas most of Chosun’s pots are white in colour. They have a mien similar to Chosun’s women dressed in their white garments; naïve and virtuous.

Choi Young Wook has been painting the Chosun’s moon-jar for quite a number of years. The image of the moon-jar almost fills up the whole canvas, which at a glance, looks as if the painter executed it using a hyperrealistic technique. This is why some viewers or critics are quick to categorize his work as a hyperrealism, but this interpretation is wrong. His work is not an objective representation of the image in a hyperrealistic style, but is rather, inclined to be subjective. The depiction of the image of the moon-jar is merely dressed in the style of figurative description. The only critical criterion that is summoned to interpreting his work as hyperrealistic is the reference to the description of the surface cracks on the pot, and this stems from the misunderstanding that the image of hairline cracks on the glazed porcelain surface represents the real fissure on the surface.


If so, what are the artist’s surface cracks referring to? What kind of thought did he have in mind while he meticulously drew the fine cracks of the jar surface? In order to answer these queries, it is necessary to re-examine and go back to his earlier works. I was fortunate enough to be asked to write a catalogue essay for his second solo exhibition in 1996 and I feel obliged to briefly mention this issue centring on this critical misconception. For the show in 1996, he exhibited works that were mainly coloured in white and hues of grey. There were faint images of ordinary subjects such as birds, chairs, people, wild flowers, a piano, or grapes drawn against the backdrop. As a whole, the pictorial ambience felt as if the artist himself was having a conversation with the depicted subjects. It intoned his sensibility in a subdued voice. I was compelled to write as follows:

“The encountering of Choi Young Wook’s works eventually means to submerge – to sink through and into his inner self. In other words, it is to apprehend the inside of an individual, a concrete form with mass and volume, through the delivering of an unfamiliar object. At this point, a piece of completed painting becomes a conduit to understanding and a clue to accessing the individual object. The figures, signs and symbols described on the canvas are the indispensible resources for comprehending the inner soul.”

As written in this preface of mine, Choi Young Wook is a type of artist who talks to himself – it is perhaps constitutional. From the early years until recent times, he has been constantly engaged with his work based on this artistic constitution. To him, drawing the images of subjects on a whitish or greyish base signifies a symbolization of experiences in a condensed manner. For what does the artist do such codification, and what kind of meaning does it convey to the artist himself or to the society?


Prior to the issue in question, one needs to pay attention to the title of his work: Karma. The word, translated to yeon (緣, bond) in Korean, or up (業, action or deeds to bring good or bad results) in Buddhist connotations, is a metaphorical take of the human life. The relations and bonds entangled like a skein of threads among human beings deliver karma, and karma endlessly circulates – this is the kernel of the ‘yeonki (緣起) theory’ (the principle regarding the creation and extinction of all things in the universe) of Buddhism. This notion of ‘yeonki theory’ is employed behind Choi Young Wook’s action to draw the fine cracked lines that form a connected network. To quote his own words:

“I drew every single line of the moon-jar, and it is not merely an expression of surface cracks of the porcelain. In life, we meet and separate, and meet again somewhere else: I wanted to express such journey of life. This is why I titled it ‘Karma’. Our life is never lived as it was intended to. I sometimes think that there is a presence of destiny. The lines are the expression of destiny, yeon (緣), or karma. All those long and tedious hours I spent on drawing lines were when I thought of my own yeon, karma.”

Choi Young Wook’s behaviour in painting is synonymous to the concept of cultivating or disciplining – something that is seen in many of Korean Monochrome Painting (Dansaekhwa) artists. If it is not so, there is no other possible way to explain his undergoing of such a strenuous task as his artistic labour: he applies layers of various nuances of white onto the canvas and makes up the shape of the moon-jar as if the form seems to be slightly emerging from the background, then finally draws a multitude of fine lines. His painting action is a gesture for seeking the truth, and ultimately, a struggle for self-liberation. It is a gesture trying to move towards zenith, similar to the state of nirvana. However, it is not a religious effort but rather an artistic ritual; it has a different dimension and it is more humane. He spends a remarkable amount of time on painting, and faces an avalanche of distracting thoughts, which indicates that his action is only something very human and not of religious or spiritual origin – he is only an artist. Thus, his purely artistic deed is miles away from undergoing spiritual training. The creating of countless fissure lines on the neatly prepared field of white glaze is a metaphor of life, and at the same time a kind of sign. It is akin to an abridged secret code. On the part of the viewers, it takes imagination to decrypt it, let alone to have the empathy to be able to susceptibly identify it with the viewers’ own life. It has a rhizomatous structure stretching out into all directions, proliferating rigorously.


It is none other than a paradox that this rhizomatous feature of Choi Young Wook’s works, thoroughly grounded on the mode of an analogue display, is comparable to the mode of existence in the era of a digitalized civilization. Just like Jake’s remark from the film ‘Avatar’, “A billion trees belong to one giant tree”, the immeasurable thin lines in Choi Young Wook’s works visualize the unseen lines of connection in the domain of the social network Facebook. The invisible network of individual profiles amounting to nearly 900,000,000 reminds you of Choi Young Wook’s cracks; it is virtual yet real. Any meeting on Facebook can be made into a reality. Your action to press the button ‘like’ in regards to any statement or opinion that appears in cyberspace, is definitely a real action. There are also various kinds of emotion involved in cyber-actions, such as pleasure, cheering, love, rage, jealousy and hatred. Accompanied by such varying realistic emotions, friends of Facebook attempt to communicate with one another in the borderless cyberspace. There, the difference of skin colour, religion, or ethnicity does not exist. Once they mutually agree to be friends, the communication starts right away even if there is a certain language barrier between them. It is similar to the flowing river: all kinds of different information loaded on Facebook flows and runs like water in real-time. It is an excellent image of life in the figurative sense.


Choi Young Wook emphatically said that his paintings were a medium for communication. A form of art involves someone who has created it and someone who will appreciate it, and the potential of an interactive communication is built in it. The interaction between an artwork and a viewer is not a patent on the media art relying on a directly responsive method. The interactive experience is possible even in the genre of paintings made by even the analogue method in Choi Young Wook’s work. For instance, when he looks back upon his own life, connecting the lines of the entire web, those who have the ability to grasp the grammar of the artwork will similarly project their own life onto his painting. The artist says:

“What I hope is that those looking at my painting will think of their own stories and will be able to understand and communicate with people who are entangled in their own life.”

“It is the path of our life. [I am not intending to] represent the realistic image of cracks on the porcelain surface. Those lines that I depict split, converge, cut off and meet again at some point. Likewise, in our life, we meet, leave each other, and we are alike yet arguably different, and we can be unified into one, even if we are somewhat different.”

The cracks of the moon-jar is just as much of a symbol for the epitome of life, as a mere aesthetic object to be appreciated. Here is where the charm and ambiguousness of his moon-jar paintings pulsates. The image of the moon-jar at once not only emanates a traditional sense of beauty but a modern one as well. This inclusive aura comes from the colour, subject matter and form. The spectrum of elegant colours ranging from milky white to subtle white, variable grey and black, embodied on the traditional moon-jar, is the crystallization of the perseverance of Chosun potters. Whilst Choi Young Wook puts one foot into tradition, he is also committed to unravel the traditional beauty as something contemporary through the medium of painting. Upon observing his paintings from the technical aspect, there is a kind of optical trick hidden in his work. On the protruding part of the jar either includes a dab of shadow or an image of a traditional landscape, only to make it look genuinely real. Due to this element, the surface cracks provoke the viewers to have illusory feelings of believing them to be real, another reason why his works often come under the rubric of hyperrealism.


The image of the moon-jar has recently become more flat and minimal. The moon-jar has been losing its plump and bulging attributes and the changed features accentuates the flatness even more. At the same time, the hairline cracks spread all over the surface of the jar, and in proportion with the expansion of fine lines, the distinctiveness of the shape of the jar is lessened. Although taking such course may be seen as a minute change, he seems to be advancing towards a certain climax. He will eventually reach ground zero, except I cannot guess when it will be. However, it appears obvious that there is an analogy of life in his work, and he is gradually making the thin mesh of fissures bigger in the similar way as his own life is proceeding: it is a piecemeal procedure in which the facets of one’s life, central or minor, are entwined with those of others, weaving a skein of bond and connection – an endless journey towards ground zero.

Layers of Memory and Image

About Choi Young Wook’s Moonjar work

Kang Hong Goo

As an everyday article, the Moonjar was lauded by many visual artists sharing the same idea with You Hong June who pointed out the beauty of it in terms of "warm pure white color, the beauty of liberal form, gentle and virtuous taste coming from the indefinite form, and the ultimate beauty of all those mixed together". The artist Kim Whan Ki who also has left many works about the Moonjar was an admirer and said as follows.

I have not seen as flaws in our pot.
All that rounds are not the same.
Everything is white but the white is not the same.
Nothing can be mysteriously beautiful than this simple round shape and pure white.
There is a speed and movement in our calm pot.
The surface is warm though it is cold porcelain.
It is the perfection of formative beauty indeed.
I do not think it is exaggerated and believe that pot has opened our eyes to aesthetic.
Isn’t a white round pot in the very front of formative art?

- 1963, Kim Whan Ki

It is certain that a Moonjar is not only an archetype of Korean aesthetic appreciation but also an inspiration for many artists for ages. And the work of Choi Young Wook starts from here as well.

Choi Young Wook’s Moonjar is a kind of homage to both the Moonjar itself and Korean aesthetic which is inherent in it. As Kim Whan Ki and You Hong June mentioned above, this Korean aesthetic has developed surrounded by harmony, balance, and tension between artificiality and nature.

The Moonjar is created by the action of natural power like fire, gravity and etc on a man made artificial item. Due to that, it has, unlike the one of China or Japan which is unnaturally perfect, an asymmetrical look that cannot be crafted by human. Of course the beauty of that rough and uneven look wins over man-created beauty. The physical tension, made when it tries to go over the artificiality, comes from the intimacy between the about to blown up pot and the soil that holds it tight.

The color is the same. In conjunction with the shape, diverse white colors give a sense of natuality like eggs from different sorts of birds. This explains its title Moonjar along with an impression that it is not man made but nature created.

Choi Young Wook’s admiration for the Moonjar starts as he reproduces its shape and color on a plane. Semiologically speaking, three dimensional sign is transformed into two dimensional sign with his personal interpretation. That is, in Choi Young Wook’s Moonjar, paint takes a range of roles as base clay, glaze, and kiln making a fire. He approaches very carefully painting on a canvas as if he moves a basket of shallow shell eggs. As a result, the white Moonjar on the white panel appears as the moon.

One more feature that makes Choi Young Wook’s work out of the ordinary is his interest in hairline crack in the glaze which looks like an ice crack. It is not made artificially but naturally, and Choi Young Wook traces this hairline crack one by one. Marked out cracks create natural drawing lines together with the shape of a Moonjar.

In other words, the Moonjar in Choi Young Wook’s painting resembles the real one in terms of its look but at the same time, it is alsoan exploration into formal elements like lines or colors. This is the moment that the Moonjar as a traditional artwork converts into the one of Choi Young Wook’s style.

There is another layer in Choi Young Wook’s work as he says "my painting is of visualized memory." The ‘memory’ that he refers here is not of detailed recollection as to the Moonjar but the overall ambience. These memories are sublimated in company with formative elements of the Moonjar.

Choi Young Wook goes further from the lines and cracks in the pot to the extent of abstract or sometimes changes white jar to black. A black jar is in fact a darkness that has lost the Moonjar, resembling the last night of lunar month devoid of the moon. The Moonjar exists in between bright and dark, and the hairline cracks are the evidence or interference of time appeared on the surface of the jar.

In his artist’s note Choi Young Wook says "cracks and craze lines in ceramics are like diverse roads in life; divided, connected, similar, different, and joined all together." The line could be a silhouette of a jar or the crazes in the glaze. If you look into the very craze, you will find what Choi Young Wook says; "shackles, joys and sorrows of life, and a spirit that encompasses all of those." Therefore, Moonjar that he paintsis a metaphor or symbol of human beings’ and his life as well.

Every object is inevitably a sign of something. A ‘signified’ that constitutes sign with ‘signifier’ contains sentiment rather than simply indicates meanings. That is the aesthetic sensation in our minds aroused by the Moonjar. It woke Choi Young Wook up to paint images similar to the Moonjar on a canvas ranging from physical reproduction to abstract line drawings. Choi Young Wooktries to go beyond mere imitation of color and shape of the Moonjar and that is why he shows accumulation of abstract line drawings quoting In Hwa Mun and Gue Yal Mun. He paints Moonjar without painting it.

Once Lao-tzu said, ‘what people use is not a body of vessel but the empty space of it.’ It is the same for the Moonjar. What we see and enjoy is the body of the Moonjar but what we makes use of is the inner empty space. The Moonjar that has no practical use is close to historic fine artwork and this is where Choi Young Wook’s language develops. This is a point of departure not arrival that he explores possibilities to formatively modify aesthetic practicality of Moonjar. Therefore, he wants his works to be a way of communication through Moonjar. That passage is an attempt to make a new relational place including past and present, or I and you. No artwork could be an answer to how detailed the effort would be, but definitely the Moonjar points toward that way.

Artist's Note
Images of Memory

My work visualises memories into images and it becomes the medium of communication.
Memories compose specific images, and it is through images that memories present themselves.
Based on what is within the boundary of perceptions and experiences (memories), certain intentions are tried out, emotions are expressed and subjects, materials and colour tones are selected; these make up certain images.
As a result, the images I portrayed are the recollections and stories of my life.
I am unfolding the stories of my life through my work.

However, those looking at my painting would draw out their own stories and memories from it. In this way, my own memories are linked to the others, and from this connection, the universal images of human beings are derived.
My life is ultimately composed from the relationship with others, thus it can be said that my work delivers the images of human beings in general.
Therefore, the viewing of my work is to silently explore the inside of me and simultaneously the inner realm of the viewer.
It is the process of reflecting on oneself, while searching for oneself.
In the course of trying to discover the self, the self becomes aware of the relationship with the others, bringing about a sense of communication.
My work mediates this communication.
The communication does not happen simply by language of the present.
What mediates between the past and the present, and connects myself (me) to others (you) are the very images of the memories which I have depicted.
The image of the moon-jar in my work is not merely a vessel.
I have chosen the image of the moon-jar as the medium of communication.
Have you ever silently approached the moon-jar?
It does not say much, yet holds up as much inside. It looks irresistibly simple, yet intensely sophisticated. Looking at this creature whilst I am deaf and oblivious to the whole world, it has already come into me and has become myself.
It is telling me how I am supposed to live and what is the right way to live.
People know me as the artist who drew the moon-jar.
But, I am not just drawing the moon-jar, I am telling you my own story – my aspiration to want to live like the moon-jar.
My own stories of life are unravelled in it, and at the same time, the universal attributes of humans are contained in it.
The work ‘Karma has a focal meaning in the drawing of lines.
The lines are not realistic representations of hairline cracks on the surface of porcelain.
They are the paths upon our life journey.
Those lines I depict continue yet split, they meet again at some point, and separate: we are alike yet arguably different, and we can be unified into one despite these differences.
Constraints, happiness, sorrow, laughter and tears are all within the territory of Fate that transcends the human will… a kind of force that ultimately envelops all of these mortal confinements.
The moon-jars shape and colour tones are unaffected and simple, and it is akin to ‘cheuk-eun-ji-shim (惻隱之心), a traditional reference meaning the natural sympathy or compassion that comes from the bottom of ones heart.
Arent we born with inherent goodness?

As such, the moon-jar refers to the images of my life recollections and contains a common narration of human life.
In other words, it is my moon-jar and it belongs to me.
I imbued personal memories into it, which transferred into our collective memories from a simple ordinary subject.
A multitude of lines and traces are cryptic messages going beyond time and space, and we decipher the code by groping in the dark of the realm of remembrance.
Look at my painting, step inside of the work, and recall one of your own memories.
There in the painting, exists a human with a good heart.
You can start your own exploration of lifes untiring stories.
There, we will meet.
In the end, the stories of my life will be shared with, and be one with you.

작가 노트

기억의 이미지

나의 그림은 기억의 이미지화, 소통의 매개체다 .
기억은 특정 이미지를 형성하고, 이미지를 통해 기억은 표출된다.
'지각과 경험의 울타리'(기억)에 근거해 어떤 의도가 시도되고 감정이 표출되고 소재나 재료, 색감이 선택되고 이것은 어떤 이미지를 만들게 된다.
결국 내가 표현한 이미지는 내 삶의 기억, 내 삶의 이야기들이다.
나는 내 그림속에 내 삶의 이야기들을 펼쳐 내고 있는 것이다

하지만 내 그림을 보는 다른 이들은 내 그림속에서 본인의 이야기와 기억을 끄집어 낼 것이다. 나의 기억이라는 것이 다른 이의 기억과 연결되며 그 관계에서 보편적 인간의 모습이 그려지게 되는 것이다.
'내 삶'이라는 것은 결국 다른 사람들과의 '관계'에서 만들어지게 되니 결국 보편적 인간을 표현하게 된다고 할 수 있다.
그러므로 내 작품을 보는 것은 나의 내부로 잠행해 들어가는 동시에 내 그림을 보는 사람들 자신의 속으로들어가 보는 것이 된다.
내 자신을 돌아보며 나를 찾는 과정이다
'나'를 찾는 과정에서 우리는 다른 사람들과의 '관계'를 깨닫게 되고 그 과정에서 '소통'이 이루어진다.
나의 그림은 결국 그 '소통'을 위한 매개체다.
소통은 단순한 현재의 언어만으로 이루어지는 것은 아니다.
과거와 현재, 나와 너를 잇는 소통의 매개체가 바로 내가 표현한 기억의 이미지들이다.
내 그림에 보이는 달 항아리는  단순한 그릇이 아니다.
나는 달항아리라는 이미지를 소통의 매개체로 선택했다.
달항아리와 조용히 만나본 적이 있는가
많은 것을 말하지 않지만 많은 것을 품고 있는, 지극히 단순해 보이지만 극도로 세련된 그 피조물을 먹먹히 보고 있노라면 그건 이미 내 안에 들어와 내가 되어 버렸다.
어떻게 살아야 할 것인가, 어떻게 사는 것이 바른 것인가를 그는 이미 나에게 말해주고 있다.
사람들은 나를 달항아리 그리는 작가로 안다
하지만 나는 달항아리를 그리는 것이 아니라 달항아리처럼 살고 싶은 내 얘기를 하고 있는 거다
그 안에 내 삶의 이야기를 풀었고 동시에 보편적인 인간의 모습을 담았고 찾았다.
내가 그린 ‘karma는 선에 그 의미가 담겨있다.
그 선은 도자기의 빙열을 사실적으로 표현하고 있는 것이 아니다.
그것은 우리의 인생길이다.
갈라지면서 이어지듯 만났다 헤어지고 비슷한 듯하며 다르고, 다른 듯 하면서도 하나로 아우러진다.
우리의 의지를 초월하는 어떤 운명안에 삶의 질곡과 애환, 웃음과 울음, 그리고 결국엔 그런 것들을 다 아우르는 어떤 기운...

꾸밈없고 단순한 형태와 색감은 우리 마음 밑바닥의 측은지심 같다.
우리는 본디 착한 마음을 갖고 있지 않나

이렇듯 도자기는 내 삶의 기억들의 이미지고 동시에 보편적인 인간의 삶의 이야기를 담고 있다.
나의 달항아리는 말이다.
내가 그 안에 기억을 넣어주면서 그것은 단순한 도자기가 아니라 우리의 기억이 되었다.
여러 선과 흔적은 시공을 초월한 암호이고 우리는 우리의 기억을 더듬어 그 암호를 풀어나간다.
나의 그림을 바라보며 한 기억을 떠올려 그 안으로 들어가 보라
그 속에 착한 인간의 존재가 있다.
그 안에서 삶의 이야기를 찾는 여정을 시작해보기 바란다.
그 안에서 우린 만나고 있을 것이다.
나는 내 삶의 이야기를 그렸지만 결국 그것은 우리 모두의 삶의 이야기이기 때문이다. copyright ⓒ 2012 Choi Young Wook 82.10.3681.6270