The world in ceramic jars

By Lee Woo-young

Artist Ko Young-hoon shares thoughts behind his hyperrealistic paintings at his first solo exhibition in eight years

  • Published : May 1, 2014 - 19:57
  • Updated : May 1, 2014 - 19:57
Artist Ko Young-hoon is a critically acclaimed pioneer of hyperrealism in Korea who has blazed a trail in the art movement since the 1970s. Like other hyperrealists, he makes viewers stand in awe looking at his images of old book pages with stones placed on top, flowers or Buddhist head statues.

Overwhelmed by the high level of skill and photo-like paintings, it is hard to fathom the depth of his thoughts from 40 years of hyperrealist activities.

“I’m not copying an object. I’m creating a new object using the real object as a model. When I was painting a stone, which was my first object, I imagined creating a stone from scratch,” the 62-year-old said during a press preview of his solo exhibition titled “Homage to the Being” at Gana Art Center on Tuesday. 
Artist Ko Young-hoon and his self-portrait. (Gana Art Center)

Painting objects as they look has provoked questions about authenticity and illusion. To prove that his paintings are not a mere false reality, he’s endeavored to search for the meaning behind the objects. He seemed to find the answer in his first solo exhibition held in eight years since his last in 2006.

“The illusion is the reality and it should be respected as a being,” wrote Ko in his artist note.

His philosophical thoughts spilled onto the canvas. He depicted the process of a ceramic jar disappearing. The flower-patterned jar seems to lose focus, becoming blurry, until the shape disappears into vague lines. The blurred images resemble abstract paintings rather than hyperrealism. 
From left: “Pinks 1”, “Pinks 2”, “Pinks 3”, “Pinks 4” (Gana Art Center)

“The process of disappearance is takes place for an extended period of time. A lot of things change during the course of time, but in fact, it all started from the same object,” Ko explained. “Same for withering flowers. Whether they are in full bloom or in the process of withering. Their origin is the beautiful flower it used to be.”

Ko reflected such generational change in humans in the portraits of his son and himself. The painting of his son and his self-portrait hang side by side. A blurred image of a man hangs between them.

“The blurred image indicates a generational change, but not as a dramatic change,” Ko said. “From my son’s perspective, it’s the process of creation. And from my perspective, it’s the process of dying.”

The portrait of his son brings admiration to the meticulous effort that must have been put in to portray every twist of hair, the lines on the eyelids and shadows.

The artist tries to balance his paintings with his age. As he gets older, he finds it hard to see objects in detail as he used to. Ko has eight or nine pairs of glasses with different prescriptions which he wears depending on the accuracy needed for his painting, according to the gallery owner Lee Ok-kyung.

“My work is more based on rational thoughts than sentiments. My whole art career was about understanding the world I live in and my responsibility as an artist in this society,” said Ko.

The exhibition runs from May 2-June 4 at Gana Art Center in Pyeongchang-dong, Jongno, Seoul. For more information, call (02) 720-1020.

By Lee Woo-young (wylee@heraldcorp.com)