Kim Whanki began as an abstract painter in the 1930s, graduating from the Fine Arts Department of Nihon University in Tokyo. To gain any exposure to European modernism it was imperative to study in Japan, where artists who had worked abroad were now teaching back home. Foreign travel was restricted by the Korean authorities until the 1980s, a constraint that intensified competition among Korean artists to participate in a handful of international expositions, the principal being Sao Paulo, and that made it all the more difficult to secure international recognition and sponsorship.
He moved to New York in 1963 direct from the 7th Sao Paulo Biennale, where he represented Korea and won Honorable Mention for painting. Helped by a Rockefeller Foundation grant for one year, he was able to take stock of the city's lively art community. Kim was put off by the commercialism and vapidity he saw in much of American abstract and Pop art, striving to invest his non-narrative work with the emotive power of poetry and music. At the same time in Korea, he was creating a sensation with the work he shipped back, particularly as an artist in his late 50s still breaking new ground. In New York, he was making a name for himself, gradually securing gallery representation and critical support. Kim's fifteenth solo exhibition took place at Asia House Galleries in 1964 and his twenty-first, "100,000 Dots," at Poindexter Gallery in 1973.
Most of Kim Whanki's New York paintings are designated, as here, with their dates of execution much as musical compositions labelled by key and number. Unlike most colourists working in acrylics, Kim used oil paint greatly thinned with turpentine, working it like ink and keeping it level with the picture plane. The palette is predominately blue, a metaphor Kim adapted from Korean poetry to mean the moon or a mountain or to conjure the vastness of space. The large canvases of the 1970s have been seen as positive meditations on the universe in which curves and lines intersect without conflict within a canopy of colour. Kim has described himself as a man at home with the stars and the dots in his paintings as "memories of a million things."
Elinor Poindexter (1906–1994) was a Manhattan-based dealer of contemporary art. She founded the Poindexter Gallery in 1955 and became Kim Whanki’s New York dealer in the 1970s. This work was part of her private collection.