LOS ANGELES, CA.- The Los Angeles County Museum of Art presents Unexpected Light: Works by Young Il Ahn, the first solo exhibition of a Korean American artist at LACMA. Young Il Ahn has lived and worked in Los Angeles since 1966, and the city’s landscape has profoundly affected his work. Curated by Virginia Moon, assistant curator of Korean art at LACMA, the exhibition features 10 large oil paintings from his Water series, including five new artworks. The Water series (1983– ongoing) takes inspiration from his experience of being lost on the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Santa Monica. In 1983, Ahn was aboard a small fishing boat when he was caught in a fog so dense that he could not see his hands in front of his face; suddenly, the fog cleared, revealing sunlight on the water all around him. This vision and experience would shape his practice for decades to come.
In each Water painting Ahn attempts to interpret the infinite ways in which light, water, and fog interact on the ocean. From a distance, the paintings appear static, each canvas a flat surface rendered in a single vibrant color. Up close, however, the paintings appear to be shimmering and mosaic-like. Small squares of thickly applied paint conform to an uneven grid but threaten to spill over their boundaries, casting shadows on the canvas and creating the impression of movement. Bright flecks of color interspersed throughout the paintings’ surfaces lend a prismatic quality to the works, mimicking the refractive effect of light on water.
In February 2016, LACMA acquired Ahn’s Water SZLB15 (2015), a painting from the Water series and the first work by a Korean American artist to enter LACMA’s collection.
Korean American artist Young Il Ahn was born in 1934 in Gaeseong, historically known as the capital of the Goryeo dynasty (912–1392) and geographically located in North Korea today. While acknowledged as a child prodigy, Ahn carried out his most prolific work in Los Angeles since his arrival in the U.S. in 1966. Since then, Ahn’s works have consistently focused on his interest in the local surroundings rather than the country he left.