The Korea Herald


[Korean artists of Note] ‘A painting is a painting’: Hejum Ba refuses to define images

By Park Yuna

Published : Aug. 28, 2022 - 16:15

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“Launch” by Hejum Ba (Whistle) “Launch” by Hejum Ba (Whistle)

Following is the third in a six-part series highlighting the next generation of Korean artists active in the international art scene. – Ed

Bold color field paintings come into sight upon entering Hejum Ba’s studio in Seoul. The vivid paintings evoke a feeling of mystery in viewers, who may stand in front of the artworks, trying to figure out the subjects of the painting or decipher the artist’s intentions.

When it came to explaining the paintings, Ba was reserved. People try to find images that the artist may have intended to put on canvas as if they are trying to find answers, she said. Ba, however, hopes people focus on the painting itself, rather than try to define the images that are before their eyes. 

“Race” by Hejum Ba (Whistle) “Race” by Hejum Ba (Whistle)

“If you make a tree from folding paper, you may say ‘this is a tree.’ You may have that experience if you went to school in South Korea because we all did paper folding at school. But it’s not a tree, it is just a paper folding.

“Once you perceive a painting as a painting itself, you may be able to focus on art rather than trying to define (things from the painting),” Ba said during an interview with The Korea Herald at her studio.

Ba sees such ambiguity helpful in allowing one to perceive things or situations from different angles.

“Abstruseness requires time to think,” she said.

Based in Seoul, the 35-year-old artist has received attention as an emerging artist in the Korean art scene. She participated in the group exhibition “Young Korean Artists 2021” at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, and held a solo show, “Plotless,” at Kumho Museum of Art in 2021. 

An installation view of “Young Korean Artists 2021” at MMCA (MMCA) An installation view of “Young Korean Artists 2021” at MMCA (MMCA)

She gives witty names to her paintings, such as “Chances for a Strike” and “Roads Upon a Finger," but the names do not necessarily hint at what she paints, the artist said.

“Ba’s paintings feature bold colors and are visually pleasing. She has explored how colors and shapes create a structure. Some of the painting titles have linguistic humor, which is a way of presenting her works,” said Lee Sung-hui, curator at HITE Foundation that held the group exhibition “Allover” in 2018, which had included Ba’s works.

Ba explored drawings and sculptures briefly, but soon found herself attracted to color field paintings. Color fields came as candid, honest, egalitarian and simple to Ba.

“Simplicity is a good value to me as an artist who lives with a lot of complicated thoughts. The color fields looked like a very bright smile,” she said. “I paint shapes that have no names, and I feel free doing so. I can be free from what are considered conventionally correct.” 

Hejum Ba (Incheon Art Platform) Hejum Ba (Incheon Art Platform)

Ba noted how the way images are consumed changes very rapidly, particularly in Seoul, a compact and tech-savvy society.

“I used to see many people read a book or newspaper on the subway. But now most people consume images with their smartphone. Such change feels quite serious to me,” Ba said. “It feels special that people come to exhibitions and see artworks in person.”

Paintings allow people to pause from a hectic life, she said, halting the overwhelming flow of information which is delivered directly to people.

“There are no concrete subjects in abstract paintings. That is why we spend time trying to trace their meaning from our own individual perspectives,” she said.

Born in 1987, Ba graduated from Ewha Womans University, majoring in painting and printmaking. She received a diploma at the Stuttgart State Academy of Art and Design. The Seoul-based gallery Whistle will unveil some of Ba‘s new works at the inaugural Frieze Seoul at Focus Asia, which will show 10 solo artists from relatively new Asia-based galleries.

By Park Yuna (