A Cruel World: Korean artist Hyon Gyon – in conversation

“Hyon Gyon: Cruel World” is the New York-based South Korean artist’s first solo exhibition in Hong Kong.

Hyon Gyon explores themes such as shamanism, grief, catharsis, stigma, cultural identity and sexual politics in her recent works. Art Radar speaks with the artist on the occasion of her solo show at Ben Brown Fine Arts, running until 9 November 2017.

Hyon Gyon, 'Diabolic Flower V', 2017, melted fabric, foam board and acrylic on canvas, 213.4 x 182.9 x 10.2 cm (84 x 72 x 4 in). Image courtesy the artist and Ben Brown Fine Arts.

Hyon Gyon, ‘Diabolic Flower V’, 2017, melted fabric, foam board and acrylic on canvas, 213.4 x 182.9 x 10.2 cm (84 x 72 x 4 in). Image courtesy the artist and Ben Brown Fine Arts.

“HYON GYON: Cruel World” features the artist’s work from 2014 to 2017. She creates paintings, sculptures and installations with a wide array of materials, including melted fabric, foam board, gold leaf, encaustic, spray paint, hair and found objects.

Hyon Gyon (b.1979) is a New York-based South Korean artist. She was trained in western painting. After acquiring her bachelor’s degree from Mokwon University in South Korea, she studied at Kyoto City University of Arts in Japan to complete her master’s degree and doctoral degree. Hyon Gyon is known for the raw energy and emotions conveyed in her highly expressive paintings and sculptures.

Hyon Gyon, 'Still Life II', 2017, melted fabric, foam board and acrylic on canvas, 213.4 x 182.9 x 10.2 cm (84 x 72 x 4 in). Image courtesy the artist and Ben Brown Fine Arts.

Hyon Gyon, ‘Still Life II’, 2017, melted fabric, foam board and acrylic on canvas, 213.4 x 182.9 x 10.2 cm (84 x 72 x 4 in). Image courtesy the artist and Ben Brown Fine Arts.

Her work has been exhibited locally and internationally, including at Museum of Kyoto, Japan; Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan; Brooklyn Museum, New York; and Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.

Art Radar interviews the artist to find out more about her artistic process and her exhibition at Ben Brown Fine Arts.

Hyon Gyon, 'Mother', 2014, acrylic, gold leaf, rice paper and other mixed media on canvas, 2 panels, 121.9 x 365.8 cm (48 x 144 in). Image courtesy the artist and Ben Brown Fine Arts.

Hyon Gyon, ‘Mother’, 2014, acrylic, gold leaf, rice paper and other mixed media on canvas, 2 panels, 121.9 x 365.8 cm (48 x 144 in). Image courtesy the artist and Ben Brown Fine Arts.

What is the role of spirituality in your work and where does this inspiration come from?

I got interested in Korean Shamanism since my family called for a Shaman after 49 days since my grandmother’s death. The ceremony was for her soul putting an end to this world and going to a good place after death, and I was so moved and fascinated by the ceremony with all the laughs and cries and playing musical instruments for over 4 hours.

I felt a kind of catharsis and the uncomfortable feelings that had been stuck inside me towards my grandmother were getting taken away from me and turned into some other forms of energy. The most attractive part of it was it played a role in negative parts of life, like sadness, death, disease, hatred or jealousy. It made me have a new understanding of fundamental power of my artwork that I had always pursued. For me, art should be helpful and useful, and I believe that is the fundamental power of art. I always think ‘how can I touch people’s emotions and how can I drag them out and change them into other forms energy (not necessarily positive one)?’ I think it’s important to face the reality and accept that life is not that easy. But it’s not just you – all of us have problems as long as we live. This is what I pursue in my art and a part of it, spirituality, relates to Korean Shamanism.

Hyon Gyon, 'Diabolic Flower VI', 2017, melted fabric, foam board and acrylic on canvas, 213.4 x 182.9 x 10.2 cm (84 x 72 x 4 in). Image courtesy the artist and Ben Brown Fine Arts.

Hyon Gyon, ‘Diabolic Flower VI’, 2017, melted fabric, foam board and acrylic on canvas, 213.4 x 182.9 x 10.2 cm (84 x 72 x 4 in). Image courtesy the artist and Ben Brown Fine Arts.

Hyon Gyon, 'The Same Weight of Joy and Grief I', 2016, oil on clay, 23.1 x 19 x 11.4 cm (9 1/8 x 7 1/2 x 4 1/2 in). Image courtesy the artist and Ben Brown Fine Arts.

Hyon Gyon, ‘The Same Weight of Joy and Grief I’, 2016, oil on clay, 23.1 x 19 x 11.4 cm (9 1/8 x 7 1/2 x 4 1/2 in). Image courtesy the artist and Ben Brown Fine Arts.

Tell us more about your choice of materials, especially textile and fabrics. What made you decide to incorporate that in your work?

I used to work with Korean traditional clothes. The clothes that are closely related to people’s life events like weddings or baby’s first birthday or something like that, something big, and special life milestones. It was a wonderful experience that I could witness people’s happiness, sadness, love, joy, and death through clothes. It was very pleasure to be involved with them. Maybe that’s why I started using textile and fabrics a lot. It is all about human interest.

Hyon Gyon, 'Eleven Minutes', 2014, cloth, candle wax and encaustic on canvas, 142.2 x 205.7 cm (56 x 81 in). Image courtesy the artist and Ben Brown Fine Arts.

Hyon Gyon, ‘Eleven Minutes’, 2014, cloth, candle wax and encaustic on canvas, 142.2 x 205.7 cm (56 x 81 in). Image courtesy the artist and Ben Brown Fine Arts.

In the press release, it is mentioned that your work Eleven Minutes is inspired by Paulo Coelho’s novel of the same title, which is a narrative of the female protagonist’s journey to finding sacred love. How does the novel resonate with your life? Do you see the story as a form of female empowerment or human trafficking?

I don’t see this story as female empowerment or human trafficking. The novel talks about sex or physical attraction, but it teaches what is love and what is meant to be loved more than sex. In the book it says “No one loses anyone, because no one owns anyone.” That is the true experience of freedom: having the most important thing in the world without owning it. This message says everything metaphorically.

Hyon Gyon, 'Harlem Gold (#PHG03)', 2016, acrylic and gold leaf on canvas, 182.9 x 152.4 cm; (72 1/8 x 60 in). Image courtesy the artist and Ben Brown Fine Arts.

Hyon Gyon, ‘Harlem Gold (#PHG03)’, 2016, acrylic and gold leaf on canvas, 182.9 x 152.4 cm; (72 1/8 x 60 in). Image courtesy the artist and Ben Brown Fine Arts.

Tell us more about your work Harlem Gold. How has your experience in Harlem influenced your artistic practice?

I created this artwork based on the daily life I witnessed during my three-month residency in Harlem. The artwork with drawings and letters on golden-coloured sheet looks different from different angles. Despite its dazzling and colourful first impression, it bluntly shows the truth about alienated African-American society looking through an Asian woman artist’s eyes. It represents violence of society hidden in darkness away from the streetlights and neon signs in big cities as well as our anxieties from living in that in modern social society.

I want my work to exist for many people who have lost their hopes, who have struggled with their lives, or who need help or cure. All my work and exhibitions I have had all relate with this one simple matter. And I think this same reason was why rap or graffiti came out – somebody had to speak out or stood out but using their own language.

Hyon Gyon, 'Harlem Gold (#PHG02)', 2016, acrylic and gold leaf on canvas, 182.9 x 152.4 cm; (72 1/8 x 60 in). Image courtesy the artist and Ben Brown Fine Arts.

Hyon Gyon, ‘Harlem Gold (#PHG02)’, 2016, acrylic and gold leaf on canvas, 182.9 x 152.4 cm; (72 1/8 x 60 in). Image courtesy the artist and Ben Brown Fine Arts.

In light of the recent political events in the United States (especially about race and budget cuts in the arts), what is the role of artists to discuss, explore or raise awareness about these issues?

And what is the role of artists to discuss….well I already pretty much repeated. I see it, I know of it, but I know I cannot do anything about it. My work is more about universal issues and emotion that include but are not limited to current political climates. However, I produce intense work since I just want to express any anger and negative emotions and just let them go. I simply use the canvas to create my vision. I think that’s my role of artist to discuss political events.

Valencia Tong

1879

Related Topics: Korean, painting, sculpture, installation, spiritual, gallery shows, Hong Kong

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