“As long as we are human beings with bodies, there are no better genres than paintings to express the senses remembered in our bodies.” _Sang-Ik Seo

Sang-ik Seo, who has been called ‘an artist with ‘storytelling talent’ that ushered in new possibilities for Korean representational painting, depicts ordinary life like ‘monopolylogue’ which combines daily life and imagination. In his studio, where three-minute instant rice and canvas, an old couch and an electric guitars, human joint models and lego bricks, etc. subtly mix, the roar from the sun-filled windows is more than the noise from the hustle and bustle of daily life. The artist Sang-ik Seo is checking his brush strokes that are on full display under this sun light. We talked about creating his own ‘space’, that is to say creating the world of painting, in a violent change of artists and contemporary arts and the reason why he experimented with various brush strokes for the past ten years.


The trace of the series of <Temple of the Artist>, which is scattered by collectors’ hands so that we cannot collect them again, catches my eye. The French independent curator Haily Grenet said about the series of <Temple of the Artist>, which was drawn with portraits and major works of world famous artists such as Matisse, Picasso, Gerhard Richter, Andy Warhol, David Hockney, Peter Doig, etc. on the remaining canvases, that ‘when I saw it at first, I was fascinated with it immediately.’ Each of the 80 artists drawn by Sang-ik Seo all have different trends of thought, style of paintings and philosophical backgrounds. The bush strokes, according to the character’s expressions, the atmosphere, and the composition of major works selected through reinterpreted of Sang-ik Seo, are also different. It is fun to look at every nook and corner. It means there is fun in looking at the painting. Sang-ik Seo, who has been studying various ‘picturesque touch’ starting with the smooth surface treated photorealism, thinks ‘a brushwork with stroke applied by the harmony of philosophy and the technique of materials handled by the painter is a good painting which is really alive. He has often been questioned why painting still survives in the media era. And he is carrying out persistently his declaration to draw ‘a picture which can feel belief’ in an era where smoothly trimmed words and the splendidly covered images are filed.


In the era of seeing through the world in our room, you have been entrenched in an experiment with traditional drawing, in other words, ‘brush strokes’ that can feel your touch.

At first, I painted with a photorealism technique that doesn't reveal the brush strokes. I combined the realistic reproducibility of the photo with my daily life story to induce it to look like ‘reality’, but the more I did this the purpose and the result of the choice of brush stroke matched each other, and the motivation weakened. Contrary to this, I also tried a way to reveal texture by laying paints, but the problem was that I could only see the result of matière and the motive of brush stroke lacked. I only thought about drawing a textual picture. However, most of artists who reveal the texture follow the lines that configure the object and lay paints, so they could accumulate the result of the texture concomitantly. Feeling this, I decided to focus on how to read the object a little more, and I am reducing techniques and drawing pictures in a more flat and basic way these days.


In your latest works, you are doing a style with the base in acrylic paint and oil paints covering it.

I always felt that the base was weak in my works. Even if I made it thick with a knife. I thought why this was the case, and the problem was the base work. The style of the photorealism work that should be drawn at once, in a way that hardened at once, is fixed and I just raised the texture, so the deviation of the layers where the paints piles up was severe. My work is now installed at the window in the Art room at the Lescape Hotel. This is the time that the brush strokes are revealed frankly under the ‘sun light’ that artists are afraid of the most. Because the empty place can be seen as it is. I tried to fulfill my desire for the solid base with ‘oil paints’, but there were many tangled part as the paints layered up. So what I found was acrylic. The fast-drying acrylic is convenient because it is easy to change the color of the whole space and it has a good sense of the density when I put oil paints on it. Acrylic is one of my helping hands in the problem of the base.

침묵의 공간. oil on canvas. 116.8 x 91cm.  2018
침묵의 공간. oil on canvas. 116.8 x 91cm. 2018

Do you have any motive to change?

My motive is the words, ‘Start as an artist, but everyone adds up to painters’. If there are two paths in the world, there are people who deny the way to be a painter starting from an artist, and admit and follow this way well. I am the type of person who has a huge interest in being a painter. I can’t just keep declaring this until I die. I think this is eventually the artist’s duty to create, reconstruct images and go into more depth based on the declaration. When I look at the other artists around me based on these words, I managed to sort out being a good painter and just be an artist.

화가의 성전 2 - 이중섭. Oil on canvas. 27.3 x 22cm. 2014 (left)
Portrait - 이중섭. Oil on canvas. 25.8 x 17.9. 2011 (right)
화가의 성전 2 - 이중섭. Oil on canvas. 27.3 x 22cm. 2014 (left) Portrait - 이중섭. Oil on canvas. 25.8 x 17.9. 2011 (right)
Portrait - 이중섭. Oil on canvas. 25.8 x 17.9. 2011
Temple of the artist
Temple of the artist

After the arranged position of the painting space these days, your work direction has become clearer.

At first, I painted a surreal space where I imprinted a picture like a snapshot, but I wondered to myself about what opinion I had in the painting space. l deliberated in the expandability of space, and I made the most extreme choice on the series of art museum because I couldn’t solve the problem about the relation between space and characters. It was after the series of portraits that I got a clue to the relation between space and characters, and my work became clearer as I arranged more positions these days. That is, I supposed that the painting space is the same as a stage that unveils a symbolic play of my creation. The space, where the curtain is lifted when the play starts, and the space, where the monopolylogue of Sang-ik Seo plays, have the same feeling.


The painting you are working on right now is the scene of ‘Auction’. It reminds me of Banksy’s case when he destroyed his work at Sotheby Auction house recently.

An auction site is a dramatic scene. When I look at a scene on screen with huge amounts of money in real time, I am astonished at what on earth art has become and how the value of capital is reflected like this. The price is not the absolute value of the work, but I came to see through different eyes in the art market where canvases with only a crushing brushstroke or a dot cost millions and billions dollars. I think this is a world where value is maintained by a few supporters, that is to say, a world where a religious mechanism runs. The art world, where the minority of capital with a faith in the ‘immateriality value’ of art keeps, is a religion where the believers are not many but have deep faith. I am working on the series art museum by thinking about the various elements of the modern art world.


You have got a reputation as ‘a representationalism artist who has an uncommon talent for storytelling’. I heard that you were greatly influenced by movies, music, and mass culture in which you were interested when you were young.

It was an intersecting point passing from classical culture to mass culture. In other words, this is the generation which has encountered a mass culture that bloomed explosively without a transition period into a state of movement in which modern culture is ‘disconnected’. Now I know that mass culture is rooted in the classic, but when I was younger my generation just accepted the mass culture in front of us as classic. In this situation, I naturally took the symbolic systems of many mass cultural contents that were exposed to me. I personally felt a great interest in showing scenes that had a great imprinting effect on my mind from my childhood, and I also became known through these types of works.

You had been working without any break for three years since you completely sold out your works at the first solo exhibition in 2008. However, you have been working on a new attempt so far since you closed all the exhibitions in 2011.

People still ask me, ‘Why don’t you keep doing what you are good at and what people like?’ I was a young artist in my 20s who was suddenly in the world of art without any proper advice from someone. Then I felt uncomfortable with all the sudden attention placed on me. Now I know the truth that I was used every single time without knowing how to handle my career and my exhibitions, but I couldn’t even be aware of this. When I work on something a little bit, then I somehow can feel what people like and which works can be sold. However, when people just buy anything, even those things that I thought ‘failed’, then I felt shame in myself. I thought they might ask me for a refund someday. I couldn’t arrange this well. I was exhausted. The ‘pointview’ had been changed to locate something, not a story that I felt in myself would be fun, but rather something that people would be interested in, so that I came to pump up my brain for an idea of paintings. I didn’t want to do something people think is good. When a painting was composed of a story, too much personal code was in there, so no matter how much I explained it, it seemed to be hard to communicate with people. That is why, I intentionally drew the series art museum to keep away surreal or dramatic narratives and just painted monotonously and flat.

호크니가 있는 풍경 2. Oil on canvas. 145.5 x 112cm. 2019
호크니가 있는 풍경 2. Oil on canvas. 145.5 x 112cm. 2019

What is the attraction of David Hockney who said that the artist itself was the object of research?

He had many virtues which modern artists should have, and he is an interesting person who can control them well. He also has a star-like temperament like Andy Warhol, but he isn’t too much of an unsophisticated showoff. He keeps his dignity to himself like an English gentleman, but he is a homosexual. However, he is not a queer artist who actively shows ones gender identity, but Hockney is a smart man who absorbed it well into the part of his life. The words he has been saying are deep enough to tell ‘wise sayings’, but when he draws a painting, he turns into a sensible and intuitive person while trying not to be intelligent. He is a peculiar being that has a sense of self control over all the changing colors like a chameleon. In fact, it is also interesting that he was well received by the public but got a slightly ungenerous evaluation in the art world.

그 숲의 비밀 3-Hunter. Oil on canvas. 162.2 x 130.3cm. 2016-2017
그 숲의 비밀 3-Hunter. Oil on canvas. 162.2 x 130.3cm. 2016-2017

WRITE Nammi Chang  PHOTOGRAPHY Min-Seok Choi


He was born in 1977 in Daegu. He majored in the Department of Western Paintings at Seoul National University and completed his Masters degree at graduate school in the same university. As a Seoul-based artist, he has exhibited seven exhibition on the theme of <When Afternoon Melts Down>, <Circus>, <Typical Scene>, <A Place for Self-Alienators-Drawing>, <Monodrama>, <Temple of the Artist>, and <Days of None of Some>. He is also going to hold his eighth solo exhibition this year. Starting with ‘Existence and Representation at the 3rd GIAF Young Artists Award’ in 2005, he has been invited to the Excellent young artists exhibition and participated in more than 40 group exhibitions in Korea, USA, China and so on.

Sang-ik Seo, who wants to live as a painter and draw good paintings in which the material, technique and philosophy in which he deals match, has been drawing paintings that prove and reveal real life beings even though they don’t have any significant meaning. Seo, who was recognized early as a figurative artist with outstanding storytelling talent, has shown the series <Another Day > about the moment when our life’s color is totally changed, the series of <Another day-Forgotten Landscape> about ever-changing floating scenery, and <Temple of the Artist> that experiments with a choice of malerisch space and subjects, and brush strokes, and constantly leads new ways for his works that cannot be determined in as a single style.