Yoo, Young Kuk (1916–2002) By Kyungso, Min
As one of the pioneers in Korean abstract art, Yoo Young Kuk constructed a unique modernist aesthetic using simplified motifs drawn from Korean nature and abstraction. Yoo was born in Uljin, South Korea, and enrolled in the oil painting department at Tokyo Bunka Gakuin, Japan, at the age of twenty. In Japan, he absorbed European modernist styles and participated in Japanese avant-garde group shows, including Jiyu-ten [自由展] and Neo Beaux-arts Group (NBG) exhibitions, until his return to Korea in 1943. The works of his Japanese period were wide-ranging, from geometrical abstract paintings, to three-dimensional collages, to experimental photographs. In 1947, Yoo created the Neo Realism School [신사실파] with Kim Whanki [김환기] (1913–1974) and Lee Kyusang [이규상] (1918–1964), fellow members of the first generation of Korean abstractionists. From the late 1950s, he organized group exhibitions focusing on modern and contemporary art, such as the Modern Art Society [모던아트협회], the Invitational Exhibition of Contemporary Artists [현대작가초대전], and Sinsang-hoe [신상회]. Although rendered in a highly abstract way, Yoo’s work uses some natural motifs, including mountains, the sea, and the sun. The contrast between submerged dark and rising bright colors, along with the irregular wide lines contouring each shape, add dynamic tension and harmony to the pictorial plane.