Lee Guk Hyun is a painter hailing out of Seoul, South Korea. Lee creates soft and beautiful oil on canvas paintings of “veiled” women. I sat down and tried to decipher the depiction of veils, chatting about creative process, films and more. Read below for the full interview…
Could you describe your creative process? Is there’s a gradual build-up before the culminating phase of work?
Guk-Hyun: First of all, I set the overall theme of my art work by hand drawing and digital operations. And then, I find adequate model, object and image. After that process, I take a picture, move it to computer, and modify it. At the final stage, I paint it on canvas by oil. All of the systematic and gradual process contributes to the creation of specific and concrete art work, which optimizes the objectiveness and factuality.
You attended one of the most prestigious universities in Korea. What is your stance on formal education towards an artists career and do you feel your studies helped you in your overall technique?
Guk-Hyun: I surely think that artists should receive professional and systematic education with the incubation. In that aspect, I think positively about the formal education. Formal college education can advance the students’ technique and deliver specific as well as general knowledge regarding the art world. Moreover, college education is a very important stage considering the education of artists’ right and obligation. Personally, many senior artists who are recognized by their art work gave me advice and encouragements, which made me more persevere. Also, the competition in good faith with colleagues could thrive my efforts.
There’s I think the most interested aspect of your work is how realistic your oil paintings look. When illustrating a person, which is the hardest aspect for you? Is it hair? Eyes? Facial expressions?
Guk-Hyun: Above all, I thoroughly concentrate on the detail of human skin’s color’s impression which sensitively changes due to the light. It is very difficult to express the detailed change of colors, which are not easily shown from pieces of black and white or monochrome. However, when I content with my expression, I can feel a huge sense of accomplishment from my work. In that way, painting with oil is a very attractive way of expression.
Your depiction of veils is quite interesting as well. There are many meanings for them in society ranging from forbading prostitutes to associating women with modesty. So, really, the reasons range on either ends of the spectrum. What is the reasoning behind your inclusion of veils?
Guk-Hyun: Woman in Islamic countries should put on ‘Chador’ as long as they are alive. This is the most symbolic phenomenon which reveals the suppression and discrimination by the power of religion, culture, and society. The veils in my work consists with Chador, in terms of the message I want to deliver. The eroticism occurs from the gap of something revealed and concealed creates a certain kind of fetish, which is due to the projection of objects. I wanted to talk about the ideology of sexuality which is made by capital and power, especially in South Korea.
I was thinking about how you have articulated your desire to communicate with people through your work; for your work to be almost devotional or iconic. How is communication a central aspect of your pursuit?
Guk-Hyun: Emblem will be the central part of my art work. I think artists have the role of delivering certain messages by showing certain objects. I utilize painting to do this. However, each object in my art work has its symbolic identity and creates a story. I want to communicate with the public by the symbolic objects of this era, as Duchamp made a urinal a ‘spring’ and Andy Warhol’s Campbell soup could be the icon that reflects the age’s social phenomenon.
Do you have any favorite Asian films?
Guk-Hyun: Since I was young, I liked movies very much. As a child, I liked to watch ‘frozen corpse movies’ of Hong Kong and action movies of Jackie Chan. Now I enjoy watching Korean movies, thanks to the advance of Korean movies’ quality. Especially, famous director Chan-wook Park’s movies are my favorites. As it is known to the public, Park’s film “Old Boy” inspired hope in Korean cinema by winning the Jury Prize at the Cannes International Film Festival. It is known for cinematic mise-en-scène and emblem, as well as the metaphoric expression of narratives. Besides Korean movies, I also enjoy Japanese romance movies.
As you approach your 30’s, how do you see your work maturing over the next decade?
Guk-Hyun: Ten years ago, I’ve only dreamed of the status of what I am right now. I’m still surprised that I can be an artist who can concentrate on painting. However, I’m at the stage of beginning, since it’s been only about three years since I’ve shown my art work to the public through private and public exhibitions. How can I expect the future accurately? Anything can happen in 10 years. I can only hope that I can be the artist who can create more valuable pieces of art work and be mature, within the process of knowing the relationship of life, society and art, by learning and contemplating many things.
Showing your work in New York, how has the United Stated reacted to your work, in comparison to other countries?
Guk-Hyun: I couldn’t visit the exhibition in New York. I sincerely wanted to feel the atmosphere of the exhibition, though I heard that many visitors had seen my work. However, it has been one of the precious experiences of my own.
You stated that you wanted to suppress whatever identity is left in the model to avoid feelings of exposure. If you were to make a subject completely vulnerable, what kind of feelings would it evoke for you as an artist?
Guk-Hyun: Curiosity and Sympathy will be the answer. The viewers will think of the reason why they cannot feel anything from the objects. However, in some cases, they will identify with the objects; in some other cases, they will simply love the beauty of the objects. We can see the scene of secret sex party among the riches, from the movie ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ directed by Stanley Kubrick (2000). In the secret sex party, the participants indulge in sensual pleasures by only wearing masks. Every participant never disclose each one’s name and face. Some women among the participants are paid ‘sex dolls’ of the riches. They are for satisfying the riches’ sexual desire. No one denies, wonders, and reveals each one’s identity. Like the sacrificed women in the movie, there are many objects who are suppressed and consumed by power and capital. If I were the being who can create that kind of objects, I should be the one who are very rich and powerful!
Lastly, any advice you’d like to share with any struggling creative?
Guk-Hyun: Buddha once said “Life is full of pain.” Specifically, this comment points out that men cannot but struggle since they are obsessed of reality and dream eternity, while everything changes. Like this, creation is a kind of struggling as well, because the environment around us is always changing, including the art world. The one who endures everything with patience can bear the sweet fruit, within the process of making the ultimate efforts.
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Translated by Helena Yoo (Culture & Art Columnist)