Kim Tschang-Yeul (b. 1929, Maengsan, Korea), a prolific Korean artist well known for his “water drop” paintings, has been one of the most influential figures in modern art history. After graduating from the College of Fine Arts at Seoul National University in 1950, Kim led the Korean Art Informel movement with Park Seo-Bo and Chung Chang-Sup in the 1950s and 60s, which later greatly inspired many avant-garde artists of the next generation to reject conservative values imposed by institutions. Shortly after his participation in the Paris Biennale in 1961 and the São Paulo Biennale in 1965, Kim studied at the Art Students League of New York from 1966 to 1968 and moved to Paris in 1969, where he began his “Recurrence” series in the early 70s, depicting opaque liquid. The liquid form gradually transformed into his distinctive trademark style of spherical transparent “water drops” after the mid-70s, which has been Kim’s focus for over four decades.
Kim’s “water drop” paintings speak a language that amalgamates the discourses around photorealism and abstract expressionism, situating themselves in an ambiguous space between reality and the abstract. According to Kim, he does not interpret his subject as realistic depictions of actual water drops, but “idealistic” ones. Kim also remarked that the continued act of painting water drops helps him erase painful and traumatic memories of the tragedy of the Korean War (1950–53), which he witnessed and experienced first-hand. In a way, the incessant act of painting water drops served as a therapeutic tool for him, and it draws a closer relation to surrealism and spirituality than the Western philosophical perceptions of “reality”.
Kim’s works have been showcased in numerous local and international exhibitions and events. He has presented his works in France, Korea, Taiwan, the United States, Belgium, China, Japan, Germany, Brazil, Switzerland, Canada, Singapore, and other nations. His notable solo exhibitions include ones at the Gwangju Museum of Art, Gwangju, Korea (2014); National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taichung, Taiwan (2012); Busan Museum of Art, Busan, Korea (2009); National Art Museum of China, Beijing, China (2006); Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris, France (2004); Draguignan Museum, Drauignan, France (1997); Sonje Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul, Korea (1994); and the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Gwacheon, Korea (1993). In 1996, he was awarded the Commandeur medal, the highest honour of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres bestowed by the Embassy of France in Seoul. In 2016, the Kim Tschang-Yeul Museum of Art opened in Jeju island, Korea to honour the artist.