CHAE Sung-Pil
上善若水 – from the soil

2023/06/10 - 2023/09/17
Shanghai, China
Dumonteil Shanghai is pleased to present "上善若水—from the soil" (the highest excellence is like that of water), the solo exhibition of Korean artist CHAE Sung-Pil. This is the first solo exhibition in China for Chae, who resides in France, featuring his last twenty works created with natural pigments on canvas. Under the guidance of Eastern philosophies, the artist explores the "dynamism of nature" with soil and minerals guided by the “forces of nature”, while conveying his thoughts and feelings triggered by nostalgia for his distant homeland.
The artist: he is the one who accompanies, who offers and guides but who never completes. Only nature completes things. As such, the verb "to paint”, for Chae Sung-Pil, is not conjugated according to the traditional “I paint, you paint, he paints”, etc... but rather as a reflexive verb "I paint myself". The tableau "paints itself".
David Rosenberg, art critic and curator
Just as landscapes can be appreciated from any angle, a viewer can also enter Chae Sung-Pil’s work from any perspective and experience the myriad forms of nature intersecting in different dimensions of time and space: from giant waves that reach the sky in seconds, to the geological deposits which formed over thousands of decades, from the flow of the waves by the shore to the dance of the wheat fields in the wind, from the ripples of the sudden rain to the patterns carved by aging trees…
Chae once explains the “flow”, the essential technique in his creation involving both “control” and “serendipity”: Water is something that accumulates and overflows, and when we look down on the ground from a high sky, overflowing water is called a river, creating empty footprints as it passes through and divides the land. And what he does in the virtual space is "a poetic pictorial metaphor to the ‘Tao’ of nature”, which uses the canvas as the screen, where the synergy of the materials, the process of creation, and the final result take place.
This attempt of approaching the essence of Nature is influenced by Eastern philosophy, especially Taoism and the doctrine of the five elements. It builds an unusual connection among materials, techniques, and subject matters, making Chae’s work stand out from both Dansaekhwa (Korean monochrome painting) and Western abstract expressionism. 
Among the five elements, "water" is the closest to the "Tao", 上善若水, the highest excellence is like that of water, which nourishes all things gently without competing with them and is always content to stay in a humble place that no one seeks after, thus it is the closest to the “Tao”. Whereas the “earth" is the closest element to the artist and the most connected element between Eastern and Western cultures.
Chae Sung-Pil uses soil as the "medium" of home, evoking not only his carefree childhood memories but also his longing for family, among which Chae’s mother is his most concern. Chae comes up with new ideas and changes his mind on a daily basis, but "creating works that represent Earth, Water, Nature, and Land" is the one theme he would like to keep. Using blue to express water also comes to him naturally. The artist once wrote, "Blue is the sea that embraces the land and the sky that has watched over the history of the earth.” Besides, blue also has a prominent place in the history of art.
The visual impact of these "earth" and "water" magnifies through our perception, trying to awaken our connection with the "Origin of heaven and earth". This sense of universality is what Chae Sung-Pil aspires to achieve, and his life in France over the past twenty years has convinced him that the raison d'être of the artist is to create works that transcend the barriers of language, culture, and time, while seeking a world that belongs to him and resonates with others.