The Korea Herald


Humorous take on Korean elegance

Artist Kim Hyun-jung turns over old image of traditional paintings in ‘Korean Pop’ by featuring women in hanbok in modern settings

By Lee Woo-young

Published : June 23, 2014 - 20:30

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Koreans have certain stereotypical expectations toward those dressed in traditional clothes. In old Korean paintings, those wearing traditional hanbok are usually sitting calmly, sipping tea and appreciating beautiful mountain views.

Artist Kim Hyun-jung subverts such conventional perceptions of Korean painting. Her paintings show women in beautiful, elegant hanbok dresses playing pool, going rock climbing and doing sit-ups.

“My paintings seek to break the images associated with the Korean traditional costume and expectations that follow about its wearer’s behavior. I do so to address the faux-naif,” the artist said at the exhibition opening last week in Seoul. 
“Swag or Die: Naive Lady” by Kim Hyun-jung. (Courtesy of the artist) “Swag or Die: Naive Lady” by Kim Hyun-jung. (Courtesy of the artist)

Kim depicts various postures and hanbok in flowing lines and delicately colors them with Indian ink. She goes further to challenge the conservative perception of hanbok by revealing the body silhouette under the hanbok skirt.

Sun Seung-hye, head curator at the Seoul Museum of Art, wrote in an essay that painting the hanbok dress half-transparently comes from an old painting technique from the Goryo Dynasty (918-1392). Sun, who calls Kim’s style “Korean Pop,” said monks were painted wearing a translucent robe that revealed their skin. “As a result, the painting feels not only sacred and religious, but also elegant and seductive,” she wrote.

Kim poses for her paintings. She takes photographs of herself and her paintings are based on them. “The subjects in my paintings often reflect my regular behaviors and habits. It could be an honest confession of my life,” she said. 
Artist Kim Hyun-jung (Courtesy of the artist) Artist Kim Hyun-jung (Courtesy of the artist)

One of her paintings features her rock climbing at an indoor facility. She is equipped with appropriate gear for the extreme sport, except that she’s in a beautiful hanbok dress. Kim gives dimension to the painting by making the blouse a collage. She dyes mulberry paper in red and punches out flower-shaped patterns.

In another painting, she gets ready to hit a ball on a pool table. She looks focused and stares at the tip of the cue. Her hair is beautifully adorned with Korean traditional hairpieces. The wall in the background is filled with Men’s Health magazine covers featuring muscular models.

“Sports reveal colors of life we have overlooked. We can express diverse emotions through sports activities such as passion, happiness, anger and disappointment all together. Sports activities reflect different colors of life,” she wrote in a note explaining why she chose sports as the main theme that runs through her exhibition.

Her previous works used humor by depicting an elegant-looking woman in a hanbok eating McDonald’s hamburger and french fries, or riding a McDonald’s motorcycle to deliver them. Her paintings have been popular among Korean celebrities and at art auctions.

The exhibition “Feign Olympics” continues through June 30 at Gana Insa Art Center in Insa-dong, Seoul. For more information, call (02) 736-1020.

By Lee Woo-young (