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. In his lifetime, Ahn developed a distinct oeuvre defined by meticulously crafted, abstract monochromes that delve into personal relationships with beauty, nature, music, and grief. Ahn’s enamorment with California’s brilliant light and the deep, glittering Pacific Ocean resulted in his Water series for which he is best known and first associated him with Korea’s Dansaekhwa movement. Working adjacent to Dansaekhwa, Ahn similarly bridged the space between meditative restraint and gestural freedom. In his Memorial series, Ahn gave form to the shock and inner turmoil experienced in the wake of the national tragedy of 9/11. By incorporating disintegrated forms and thick, black paint spatter to a diagonally gridded image plane, the resulting works are a remarkably intimate expression of mourning—an elegiac homage to the artist’s adopted homeland.
Ahn’s work has been the subject of major surveys, including Young-Il Ahn: Reflection, Kavi Gupta, Chicago (2021); Young-Il Ahn, Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach, (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, CA (2015). Ahn’s work is included in the public collections of 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. Reviews of his work have appeared in ARTnews, Los Angeles Times, and Hyperallergic, among other publications.