Serenity in science

Travel | Cara Chen 8 May 2020

The rapid development of technology makes people more prone to nostalgia.

This is especially true for those in their fifties, who lived through the transition from analog to digital.

Kim Young Hun, 56, said he dreamed of becoming a painter or a scientist when he immersed himself in the world of comic books at the age of 10.

“Comic books took me into a fantasy world, and my imagination crossed the border between reality and fantasy,” said Kim.

Though an artist, he is still fascinated by the realm of science.

At his first solo exhibition in Hong Kong at Soluna Fine Art, Diamond Mountain – Electronic Nostalgia, which runs until June 6, visitors will see the traditionally garish television color bars (now rare in the era of streaming television) painted on canvas, but with an ineffable aesthetic feeling.

Kim‘s nostalgia takes the form of the TV cathode ray tube motif, which he uses to

“generate an electronic-like abstract painting language that interferes with parts of the ambiguous boundaries in our ever-changing digital or real lives” – the way comic books made him feel.

Kim uses the color bar motif to interpret nostalgic objects and landscapes, and responds to the theme of “electronic nostalgia” through the techniques he employs.

Through the traditional Korean painting technique of hyukpil, in which the painter mixes colors and paints with rapid strokes using a leather brush, the multicolored stripes that seem to fl ow like ink are made with one continuous brush stroke across the canvas, with the oil colors melding together and permeating each other on the canvas.

By having just one layer of paint, the traces of Kim’s pulsating brush strokes are left unedited and simultaneously create the illusion of a glossy screen.

This preservation of the raw artistic process is one of the most distinctive features of his work.

“Attempting to put additional layers of paint on the first will remove and ruin the delicate details of the brush traces,” Kim said.

Twisting together grayish hues with neon pink and green and combining Korean art features and the signature colors of TV color bars, some of Kim’s work depicts specific landscapes. For example, p1929-Electronic

Nostalgia Diamond Mountain is inspired by a nearly-200-year-old ink painting, Geumgang jeondo (“General view of the Diamond Mountains” in Korean) by Jeong Seon.

Located on the border with North Korea, Diamond Mountain is one of the most picturesque mountains on the Korean peninsula and serves as a key theme in Korean cultural history, as well as inspiration for artists.

However, after a tourist was shot dead after straying into the nearby North Korean military zone in 2008, people from the south can now see the mountain only through artworks.

“For me, Diamond Mountain is a place on the map that I cannot go. It exists, but does not exist. It is an illusion that looks like an avatar that I crave, but I cannot visit or catch it,” said Kim.

The story behind the series on display relates to when Kim was working on his master’s degree in London between 2006 and 2008.

There, he realized virtual space might be a potential source of inspiration for his works as he played online role-playing games with his son, who was in Korea at the time. That was also when he found out the techniques he used in the studio were similar to traditional Oriental techniques.

Before that, Kim was a studio assistant to monochrome painter Yun Hyong Keun in Seoul.

However, Kim didn’t understand Yun’s art at first.

“I was a provocative and ambitious painter in my late 20s, and Yun was a serene man whose paintings were calm and profound, but weren’t my favorite style,” said Kim.

However, after creating artwork in the same series for more than 10 years, Kim began to understand how Yun’s paintings promote sophistication.

“When I think of drawing repetitive stripes, producing waves in my work, or look for ways to showcase achromatic squares, I am reminded of the stillness in Yun’s painting,” Kim said. “Perhaps the blank parts in my paintings are due to his influence.”

The experience of working for Yun provided Kim with another way of thinking about creating art. Kim’s own works also offer an alternative way of seeing the world, which he calls a “new visual intelligence.”

For him, “this is the ultimate direction in which my paintings are headed.”

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