His clean-shaven, boyish looks make it hard to associate Lee Hong Min with the grotesque, treacherous or violent.
But this is what the South Korean artist revels in; psychological portraits, bulging muscles, visceral metamorphoses, vibrant colors and graphics characterize his works.
Visitors to his first solo exhibition at Over the Influence's upper gallery in Sheung Wan, Meta Universe, which runs until March 13, will be greeted with three weird oils.
Created in late 2019, the paintings seem to depict realistic scenes, but their composition, colors and brushstrokes make it difficult for audiences to find reference points.
In On the Tree, brown branches gradually transition to orange and entangle the figure in the center, reminiscent of blood vessels or intestines. The chubby figure's legs are twisted like roots. It is difficult to tell where the tree ends and where the person begins as the two are intertwined.
Lee said the painting depicts a character who is waking up on a tree.
According to him, people are free to interpret the painting through their personal experiences. "We recreate others in our thoughts with our own perspectives and interpretations," he said. "But in fact, nobody can completely understand others."
It's when people face these perspectives and imaginations that they realize who they are, he said, adding that the process of creating works based on this theme was like looking into himself.
Also on the theme of misunderstanding, the monochrome paintings on display depict fragments of hollow figures being dismembered in a laboratory. His animation background from Korea National University of Arts allowed the 39-year-old to draw the figures in proportion and full detail.
The empty-eyed statues are inspired by comments on the internet, which Lee described as "impressive" - as strangers creating a sense of collectivism and hierarchy through just a few sentences.
These works allude to his pessimistic view of internet behavior and public opinion in both South Korea and the world.
Speaking to themes such as despair, determination and coming of age, Lee believes the human body is an assembly of will - which is why he expresses it with twisted muscles.
Although the overall mood seems desperate and depressing, Lee finds some fun in the creative process.
Some of the works are oil paintings and others are acrylics.
Lee enjoys the process of wiping out and rubbing the oils, as he sees it as part of the creating process that seeks balance, while acrylics allow him to create a new texture.
But most important is his method of using the paint, rather than the characteristics of the paints themselves.
"I used hardened, broken and crushed brushes, rough cleaning brushes and make-up brushes to paint," he said.
"During this process, I discovered a way to create a shape through covering up or rehighlighting the pencil sketch lines."
He likened this to the process of slowly forming an idea. There are always circular questions that put a halt to the process, or even cause it to go backward.
The artist highlights Grow Wise - in which he reinterpretes a scene from the animation Ghost in the Shell - as his most "enjoyable" work.
The painting is the beginning of the series, which is being exhibited for the first time and just started this year, depicting scenes from the animation with the addition of Lee's own touches.
"Even though the work was quite challenging to create, the process of adding shapes, placing lines, making up expressions and movements and adding effect lines felt like clearing hard missions in a game," Lee said.