Harper’s is pleased to announce Memories of Water, Young-Il Ahn’s third solo presentation with the gallery. Memories of Water highlights Ahn’s devotion to capturing the distinctive features of California’s natural environment through his rigorous formal process. Within the exhibition, two monumental paintings will be debuted at the Los Angeles location. It is also the first time the artist’s work has been displayed in his hometown since retrospectives at LACMA and the Long Beach Museum of Art in 2017, and his passing in 2020. The show opens on Friday, April 21, 6–8pm, with a reception attended by the artist’s family.
Centered around two paintings in the main gallery, Water RAW 188 and Water RAW 288, Memories of Water seeks to elicit a meditative experience through a focused curation. Each of these pieces is ten feet wide and presents vast color field arrangements that engulf the viewer in ethereal, horizonless seascapes. The paintings consist of hundreds of daubs in pastel hues spanning across their surfaces: from edge to edge, dense swaths of lavender and powder blue marks rest atop yellow and peach-toned underpaintings. Every stroke was masterfully applied by a palette knife in alternating directions and various intensities, loosely ordered by an invisible grid. Ahn’s embrace of subtle tonal shifts produces wavering patterns, which allows his compositions to mimic the fluidity of placid seas. The interplay of warm and cool tones further evokes the shimmering glow of light refracting off ripples, swells, and crests along the water’s surface. Both serene and pensive, the paintings represent a moment of sublimity within the unpredictable flux of nature, a feeling which reverberates throughout all of the works in the exhibition.
While Water RAW 188 and Water RAW 288 seek to express the universal characteristics of natural forms—Ahn once wrote that the dynamic between light and water is “a visual encapsulation of the universe’s movement”—the paintings are nevertheless quintessentially Californian. Since immigrating to Los Angeles in 1966, Ahn was quick to call the city his home. He found inspiration in the special qualities of California’s light and air, evident in the color palette of each piece, and was especially humbled by the unique energy of the Pacific coast. Ahn’s series of Water paintings in fact arose from temporarily getting lost at sea on a foggy day. The experience dramatically reoriented his sensuous relationship with his physical surroundings, which provoked an aesthetic shift in his practice. Ahn synthesized this personal experience with his training as a minimalist painter, allowing him to channel the techniques and spirit that were in tandem with his contemporaries, such as Agnes Martin’s delicate grids and Mary Corse’s radiant finishes. Presented for the first time to a public audience, the two main paintings on view in Memories of Water are exemplary of Ahn’s achievements of bringing art and nature in harmony.
Young-Il Ahn (b. 1934, Gaeseong, Korea; d. 2020, Los Angeles, CA) received a BFA from Seoul National University in 1958; in 1966 he resettled in Los Angeles, which remained his home for the following five decades until his death in 2020. Ahn’s work has been the subject of major surveys, including Water, Space, California, Harper’s, New York (2022); Young-Il Ahn: Reflection, Kavi Gupta, Chicago (2021); Young-Il Ahn, Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach, CA (2017); Unexpected Light: Works by Young-Il Ahn, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles (2017); Before Water, Gallery Sesom, Changwon, KR (2016); A Memoir of Water, Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach (2015). Ahn’s work is included in numerous public collections including Bronx Museum of the Arts, Bronx; Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, Seoul.