Hun Kyu Kim.

Hun Kyu Kim.

and now for something different………………………………

Hun Kyu Kim at work

The artists I am looking at today is the South Korean painter, Hun Kyu Kim.  It is difficult to describe the artwork of today’s featured painter.  It is, to say the least, troubling and the more one concentrates on the figures, the more one becomes alarmed.  The individual figures look like something out of Japanese anime or going back further in the past, the figures one saw and was fascinated with in the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch.

The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymous Bosch

Kim says his favourite artwork is Bosch’s work, The Garden of Earthly Delights. According an interview he gave to CNN Seoul, he also sees his art as a bridge between the past and the contemporary. 

Funeral on the Beach by Hun Kyu Kim (2020). Pigment painted on silk

However there is a thread of violence running through many of his works, whether it is threatened catfish, sword-wielding dogs or armoured vermin performing acts of violence, cruelty and damage.  Their expressions distorted by hate, their eyes bloodshot and jaundiced, and their contorted faces often partly decomposed add horror to the depiction. Kim tries to mix amusement with the grotesque, and his paintings put a modern spin on the historical painting styles that Kim spent almost a decade mastering. What I like about his work is the way I can lose myself in the compositions which are so full of details and so visually multifaceted. Kim has said that he hoped his work tangled peoples brains.  I am sure by the end of this blog you will see that he has managed that !

Kim in his studio.

Born in Seoul in 1986, when it came to enrolling at the city’s College of Fine Arts, Kim opted for the course on traditional Oriental painting and Aesthetics as his double major. During his studies he was taught the techniques behind restoring the great Buddhist paintings of the past and was set tasks to faithfully copy them.  Of these tasks Kim spoke about the enjoyment he gained from the various tasks:

“…It was just an instinct. Old paintings come from religious activity so they have an aura inside, and a great beauty. The process is comforting, and I liked the scent of the silk and black ink…”

It took him almost a decade to graduate because the required techniques took that much time to grasp and understand.

Readymade Flea Market by Hun Kyu Kim. Pigment painted on silk.

After graduating Kim became involved in political activism and he found it difficult to gain exhibition space for his work which had anti-authoritarian connotations.  He left South Korea and travelled to London where, in 2015, he enrolled on a postgraduate course at London’s Royal College of Art.  Through his activism days he learnt how to engineer a more subtle activism with his allegorical depictions which left the observer to decide what they were all about and he believed that those who have suffered or are suffering oppression will understand the paintings.

Too Cool for Shopping by Hun Kyu Kim. Pigment painted on silk

Although at one time he considered himself to be a political artist, he now believes that since leaving his homeland he feels more relaxed and less politicised.  In his work entitled Too Cool for Shopping we see anthropomorphic animals perform out endless and various storylines amidst a multicoloured, animated worlds.  Look carefully and we can make out harassed catfish, sword-wielding dogs and rodents dressed in armour which commit acts of violence, malevolence and rascally deeds.  Their contorted expressions are frightening.  Their eyes are bloodshot and yellow, and even their putrefied faces are sometimes partly decomposed.   As we look at the various figures we are partly amused and partly horrified.

Derby Lovers (Spring Day) by Hun Kyu Kim. Pigment painted on silk.

Kim would probably be looked upon as a workaholic.  He is in his studio painting ten hours a day and seven days a week. It is what he loves doing and he says to complete one of his larger works takes him at least a month.  The painting on silk is a complex process.  His modus operandi is to start the work at one corner and let details run out slowly and one must remember that any mistakes made are irreversible resulting in the painting being binned.  So how does Kim cope with that problem?  According to him it is the case of morning meditation before starting work!

Drowning by Hun Kyu Kim. Pigment painted on silk.

We are aware that Kim’s has taken an inordinate amount of time to complete his artworks.  It has consumed hours and hours of his time and in a way it demands we take our time to carefully peruse the depictions and take in every feature of it rather than just giving it the usual cursory five-second glance, the normal time we allow ourselves to gain some pleasure from what we see.

Ark for One by Hun Kyu Kim (2017). Pigment painted on silk.

Kim’s work is what I believe you either love or hate. There is simply no halfway house !

Eight Universes and The Machine by Hun Kyu Kim.

The four paintings above were part of Kim’s first solo exhibition in the UK entitled The Eight Universes and The Machine. The exhibition was held in November and December 2018 at The Approach Gallery, a contemporary art gallery situated above a public house of the same name in Bethnal Green, London.  The exhibition was entitled The Eight Universes and The Machine.  His exhibition weaved intricate stories about an imaginary world. However, Kim’s imagined world becomes an analogy for his understanding and thoughts with regards the very real recent political situation in South Korea and its disquieting change since a stamping out of a corrupt regime.

Pigdog by Hun Kyu Kim

Kim’s Eight Universes and The Machine, has scrupulously created eight parallel universes across his eight paintings, comprising four seasons, night and day. The depictions included numerous hybrid animals symbolising a social status such as scholar, artist and labourer. Kim’s created worlds are envisaged to be under the control of one huge machine, neoliberal capitalism, which is a reference to an ideology encouraging free-market capitalism and minimal government intervention which has been the dominant and increasingly pervasive economic system of the contemporary world since the late 1970s. 

Life will become more interesting by Hun Kyu Kim. Colouring on silk with oriental pigments and taxidermy.

These exhibited works were the first eight paintings from a much larger ongoing project that Kim is embarking upon, which he terms as The Big Picture. A huge endeavour, meticulously illustrating, in obsessive detail, a story combining Korean fairy tales, political history and folklore, as an original science fiction epic. Kim takes on the role of the storyteller.  Each story acts as an independent unit, but shares a common world full of imagination, informing a single overarching narrative.   The political message Kim puts over with these paintings exposes how neoliberalism perniciously operates in our society today, and how, we, its subjects, innocently take part in its operation to their own disadvantage.

Unwashed by Hun Kyu Kim. Colouring on silk with oriental pigment.

Hun Kyu Kim currently lives and works in London and in 2017 was the winner of the Chadwell Award.  This award was set up by Andrew Post and Mary Aylmer in 2010 in memory of Andrew’s mother.  The award is offered to students as a bridge between art school and practice as a professional artist by giving a recent Fine Art MA graduate a free studio in Bow, London for a year, together with a bursary of £1,000. In addition the Chadwell Award has a discretionary purchase grant of up to £4,000 to buy a work from the award holder at their end-of-award show.

So there you have it ! Love it or hate it – your decision.

My next blog will be all about colour but equally different from mainstream art.