Yoo Chihan Painter Yoo Seungho’s “Dot-Dot-Dot” Paintings
Nathalie Boseul SHIN
- His paintings are still playing with words, but they are more cheerful and livelier, like nursery rhymes.

[“Yoo Chihan” is a word play. “Yoochihan” is an adjective that means to be cheesy or/and childish. But by adding a space between “Yoo” and “Chihan,” it can also mean “Molester Yoo”]

Yoo Chihan, Humor—a childishness coming out from a fool, not a fraudulent fool, but a genuine fool; if I can become such a fool, let’s loosen up to fly freely. But surely there is something beyond such humor, something strangely mischievous. Something like an equation invalid by the means of artistry because of its mere humor, or maybe because of something more than humor. Then what is that ‘something?’ (from the artist’s note)

Get Ready!
Put it aside. Put his past paintings aside. Forget it. Forget the “letter landscapes paintings” that we remember him for. Rather, let’s forget it. Yoo Seungho may have become well-known for his landscape paintings, formed by spilling letters painted one by one on top of frail and long Han paper. However, the more I observe these letter landscapes, the idea that he probably was fighting against the letters and scenery in exhaustion became clearer. Probably Yoo Seungho would concur with me. Was it not that his initial joy of painting letter landscapes began to fade away? So let’s forget the works that gnawed away his happiness of drawing, and enjoy his new works, the “dot-dot-dot paintings.” If we don’t, we might see his new works only under the shades of the “letter landscape paintings.” Of course though, the shadows of the “letter landscape paintings” will still gleam on the rims of his “dot-dot-dot paintings” inevitably.

Letters Changed Into “Dot-Dot-Dots” on Motionless, Yet Rhythmical Color Boards.
When you enter the Exhibition, the rectangular color boards will catch your eyes. With various shapes and sizes, some are horizontally or vertically stretched out and some are perfect squares. One of the rectangles completely covers up the wall with its fluorescent blue and some rectangles are clumped up together. Moreover, the sprightly colors enhance our exuberance even before we can take a glimpse at the content of the rectangles. It is these rhythmical color boards that exhibit artist Yoo Seungho’s new project, the “dot-dot-dot paintings.” From a distance, the “dot-dot-dot paintings” seem to appear like abstruse images tangled up randomly. However, the images start to untangle and show shape as you step closer towards it. One of the paintings has something like a Jujak and Hyeonmoo [two of the four gods in the Korean mythology; respectively, one looks like a phoenix and the other looks like a giant turtle with a snake as its tail], something like the Baekjae dynasty’s ancient tomb mural, and/or something like a cartoonish robot. Another painting has a “Reflect Kid Statue,” what artist Yoo saw in a comic book long ago, that shoots out lighting from its hands. The lighting is more vivid due to the scribble-like letters underneath. Though these squiggles seem abstract, they actually assemble the word “natural.” It works like this: the “n” gradually transfigures into the “a”, then the “a” again changes into the “t” and so on. This type of transfiguration process is presented in many of his works. Anyways in these pieces, Yoo Seungho implemented his imaginations and what he saw hitherto, so there are diverse motifs. Though the audience will not know under what context and insight Yoo Seungho saw such things, there is the merriment of guessing his thought and imagination development by following the dots in the color boards. Now let’s observe the “dot-dot-dot paintings” more closely. When you get closer, only the dots come into vision. It is hard to believe these small dots of consistent sizes were imprinted by a brush. Soon, the audience is reminded of his past “letter landscape paintings.” One famous example would be his [again, this is a word play. While it can mean the female “she” in English, it can also be the onomatopoeia of urinating in Korean], which at first glance it looks like a man “she~”ing until when you closely examine and discover the image is consisted by numerous English terms of “she.” Only then the audience is astonished with its “labor-intensive” workload the painting demands. is without doubt not an optical illusion nor an interactive art piece, yet the audience is drawn in and out because of two possible images of the painting. The perception is played by different approaches. This physical approach is applicable also in his “dot-dot-dot paintings.” Initially it is a single image, then the image unveils its small motifs as the distance is narrowed, and then even more closely, the finesse of “dotting” pleasantly surprises us. The vice versa approach of zooming-out awards an equivalent enjoyment but is slightly dissimilar in essence. If his previous works humorously twisted the meanings of words and letters, his latest works are based on units of meaningless illustrations. Henceforth, some of the audience may be disappointed by the thought that the artist’s wits and humor has weakened. In addition, has Yoo Seungho departed with the usage of letters? It is hasty to deduce such a conclusion.

“Painting fluorescent lemon-color circles on the neighborhood trash bins in the desolate hours of dawn”
- Before the early 90s of Korea, each household had these large rubber trash bins outside that were tainted by ad stickers, which exacerbated the filthiness and vulgarity. So I went around every trash bin and painted “pretty” fluorescent lemon-color circles on them. I believed by painting these brilliant circles on the dirty trash bin it would impose a much cleaner impression. On the contrary, in result the neighbors were far more repulsed by it.” (from the artist’s note)

Letters and Songs Changed into Dots
Each motif shaped by dots has their own untold anecdote. There are some drawings that tell these secrets, but they were decided to be not exhibited because it seemed too explanatory. Not only do these secrets differentiate Yoo Seungho from other artists, but also show his fateful tie with letters. Though it is unfortunate to not exhibit these elegant and sleek drawings, artist Yoo set up a device to give hints about the secrets with his playful spirit. Can you guess what it is? The answer is the blue wall on the right of the gallery as you would enter. The pink dots printed on top of the blue wall were not haphazardly printed by the artist; they were made according to a certain pattern of transforming letters to act as a guide map and are sketches that allow the audience to surmise his work process. It shows how the Korean alphabet “ㄱ” and “ㄴ” change [pronounced “gi-uk” and “nee-eun” respectively] and how a line turns into a circle. It’s a rarity to meet an artist who benevolently explains his work process on such a large plane. Well, perhaps the audience now knows unlike the dot Kandinsky described in his “Point and Line to Plane” or the Ben-Day dots Lichenstein magnified in his cartoon illustrations, Yoo Seungho’s dots have their own distinct value and story; in other words, the dots still cast the dense shadows of “language/definition.” Now we’ve identified the idiosyncrasy of his works, let’s find the two hidden Korean nursery rhymes in this exhibition as an exercise. The first nursery rhyme entangles the vowels and consonants and fragments the line into points so it’s tricky to read it. But if you can find the first line, “break the rock into bits…,” the whole song will shine through. The second song separates its verse into different boards so it is much more difficult to find. Especially the last syllable of the verse it far~ aloof from the others. Once the two songs are identified, the colored dots will start to sing in the minds of the audience. All the colored boards of different dimensions and hue will start to compose a rhythm and you will start to hum to it. Furthermore, it will suddenly hit you that the colors and the sensation of the bobbling dots match well with the measures of the nursery rhymes.

“Dot-Dot-Dot Paintings,” Enjoyable to both do and watch
Often art is perceived to be grave. Especially it is commonly thought that contemporary art is obscure. Yet, just like Yoo Seungho’s art, not every art is so grave and obscure. Though all of his works may not be serious, they can be philosophical, extensively interpreted, and founded on aesthetic debates because of the continuous connotations of letters and language, which made his works appear serious. When I first looked at his pieces, which seem to display multiple layers that were scrutinized by letters, I also have thought his works were quite profound, using a theoretical outline as a weapon. However, soon as I got to know him, I have understood that he regards letters as images. The everyday words or letters sometimes ironically don’t mesh well like dislocated cogwheels due to either inconsistency or illogicality. Besides, there is really no need too perfectly click. Yoo Seungho spots this contradiction so well as if it is his sharp instinct. He amusingly unravels the arbitrary relationship of the image and meaning of words. If hieroglyphics were inspired by the images of nature, the “dot-dot-dot paintings” have oppositely set in, where the images were inspired by the letters. Of course considering that the inspiration was entirely processed by the artist’s imagination and thought development, we can say it conjures a subjective fantasy world. As mentioned, I said Yoo Seungho’s art is not serious. This does not imply that his artworks are insincere. The process of painting dots one by one with a uniform size to depict his imagination shows his utter sincerity like no other artist. In the current art scene—full of mindless doodles—where countless easy methods exists, the “dot-dot-dot paintings” done by his own hands and brush may seem foolish, but because each dot of devotion creates its own story, we might be more entranced by the boards. Yoo Seungho said he was happy working with this new project. Unlike other art genres, paintings embody the very vitality and soul of the artist intact and have the power to communicate the artist’s status to the audience. That is why it is possible to speculate his sentiments through these pieces. And that is why it might be proper to view his “dot-dot-dot paintings” with a joyous heart, like singing a cheerful nursery rhyme.