In 1990, Lee Bae was a classic starving artist, a 34-year-old immigrant from South Korea working in a squat in a dodgy suburb of Paris. Lacking money for paint, he went to a service station and bought a bag of charcoal.

Sitting in his current Paris studio, a two-storey apartment overlooking the Canal de l’Ourcq, he recalls, ‘The first time I saw it, I thought: “Ah, I come from a place that knows all about black.” He explains that Koreans had been making ink sticks from the soot of pine trees since around 4000BC. Now, far from home, ‘It was

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