The Darker Meaning Behind Young Il-Ahn’s Colourful Canvases at LACMA — Yunyi Lau

The Artling, 02.09.2018

Young Il-Ahn is known for his Water series; dyanmic large scale canvases that vibrate with energy despite their minimal and appearance. A synthesis of his understanding of light, colour and spirituality, Ahn has spent over a decade developing the series of over 400 works.

This year, he will be honoured with a solo exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), entitled ‘Unexpected Light: Works by Young-Il Ahn’. It will be the first solo exhibition of a Korean American artist at the institution and feature 10 large-scale oil paintings from the series, including 5 new works.

Despite their candy-coloured hues of bubble gum pinks and periwinkle blues, the works hide a much more grim story. In 1983 was aboard a small fishing boat when he was lost on the Pacific Ocean, having been caught in a fog so dense that he could barely see his hands. Thankfully, the fog cleared, surrounding him in a glittering light as the sunlight bounced off the water’s surface. This experience became the crux of his artistic pratice, inspiring him to paint his Water series.

His Water paintings are Ahn’s attempt to re-create the harmnoius effect of light, water and fog interacting in a myriad of ways. The works appear as flat, monochromatic surfaces, which upon closer inspection, reveal an uneven mosaic of squares applied in impasto. Interspersed between them are bright dots and dashes of colour, creating a prismatic effect that mimic the refractive effect of light bouncing off the water’s surface.

Speaking about the series Ahn states:

The constantly moving atmosphere, the shifting sounds, the changing shape of the waves, light and color changing moment by moment—there is no moment when it can ever stop and no moment can ever look the same as the process of change and rebirth goes forward and yet … and yet the sea never changes and is forever constant.

So, when I look out upon the ocean, I tremble as if I am holding part of the universe in my hand. This is why, for the past thirty years I have ceaselessly tried, through The Water Series, to put that “tremble” onto my canvasses.

In his larger body of work, Ahn’s Water series marks a notable transition from semi-abstraction to full abstraction, which he has continued to develop till this day.