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Delicate skills meet impromptu thoughts

Artist Ham Jin returns after six years with darker and more profound micro world


The dark gray alien-like clods hanging from the ceiling and sticking on walls at PKM Gallery in Hwa-dong, central Seoul, are not lumps of dust, hair or eraser shavings.

Look at them carefully ― really carefully ― and you can see tiny worlds made of polymer clay. With enough imagination, you may be able to spot some human-like figures yawning and ant-like figures walking on super thin threads.

“I would like visitors to take a really close look at the works. I hate those who just whoosh by works I spent so many hours and effort on,” Ham Jin, the artist, told the press on Monday.

Ham is known as the creator of micro worlds smaller than fingernails. He made tiny human figures to ride on a real dead fly and filled the crack between the wall and the floor with less-than-one-centimeter-tall figures at his last exhibition six years ago at PKM Gallery. 
Ham Jin stands under one of his works at PKM Gallery in Hwa-dong, central Seoul. (PKM Gallery)
Ham Jin stands under one of his works at PKM Gallery in Hwa-dong, central Seoul. (PKM Gallery)

Recognized for his hard-to-see yet eye-catching works, Ham is one of the rare Korea artists to have become well-known in the art world soon after their debut. After his first show held at age 20 in 1999, Ham participated in many exhibitions, held solo shows overseas and even grabbed the chance to be one of the 15 artists at the Korean pavilion for the 2005 Venice Biennale.

Like most who rise to fame quickly, Ham met his artist’s block. During a six-year hiatus, he pondered how he could change and develop his works without destroying his art world. This solo exhibition, said the artist, is the result.

Though still miniature, his works went from plastic art to abstract art. Using needles and tweezers, the artist improvised his way with the black, elastic polymer clay until “a smile crept over my face when imagining the work on show,” which he said meant that it was complete.

Fans of his former works, however, might be disappointed because his new works appear to be less whimsical and colorful, and just dark.

“I turned to black so that it would be hard to realize what it is at first glance. But taking a closer look you can see unbelievable layers. I could not make my works as delicately as I wished because the material broke easily. Now I can even express the tiniest strand of dust because I got a more elastic material,” said the artist.

Paintings exhibited upstairs, on the other hand, are overwhelmingly colorful. The canvases full of vivid brush strokes are reminiscent of Jackson Pollock’s action paintings or a view of a water park. The strange and perhaps more attractive thing about his works is that the artist did not portray any particular thought in them.

“I just played with my brush. There is no fixed theme for this show, they were just impromptu and amusing works for me,” said Ham.

The artist has only “four friends,” does not enjoy going to art galleries, likes to play games and works in his room or at cafes near Hongik University. He is one of the most secluded artists in Korea, said Park Kyung-mi, head of PKM Gallery.

“Life was boring and creating was the most fun. The paintings, I finished each in about four to five days in total concentration and excitement, and the sculptures took much longer. I am thinking about expanding the sizes in the future a little bit,” said Ham.

The exhibition runs from June 3 to July 15 at PKM Gallery in Hwa-dong, central Seoul. For more information, call (02) 734-9467 or visit www.pkmgallery.com.

By Park Min-young  (claire@heraldcorp.com)
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