Kim Hyun Sik, known for works that forge space within a plane, is a Korean artist who is garnering great attention
from major collectors in art markets around the world.
Color and line, the most basic elements in the realm of painting, are key to the works of artist Kim Hyun Sik. Kim has chosen epoxy resin as his primary medium to express “more” than what is visible, “beyond” the plane of the canvas. The artist builds up resin, a medium characterized by transparency, treating each layer with color and lines, and repeating the layering process 8–10 times for one painting. This author observed the process of scoring lines and inlaying colors between layers. The straight lines look extremely simple, but Kim says, “Some lines are drawn with resolute force, and others bear the lightest stroke.” The artist has to etch over 10,000 lines to complete a piece. This is strenuous physical labor that takes a toll on his arm, he says. What startled me the most was the screeching noise, so high-pitched it’s barely audible. San and Siwol, the cats the artist adopted from the street, are calm, apparently used to the sound. The artist’s expression is also composed. This culminates in a peculiar silence.
Layering color becomes tense as the work nears its end. The work depends on intricate detail, and the lines must be clearly revealed in the end. “This is a sensitive process of achieving subtle tonal variations of the same color. Another person could never do this work for me, because it is about the subtle differences that I feel. The viewer may not feel it, but it has to satisfy me.” In the artist’s work, the viewer sees commandingly vivid “color.” After Kim completely abandoned form, which can distort artistic intention, and began focusing only on colors and lines to create “space within the plane,” his work expanded into greater simplicity.
<Who likes any colors?>, 2016. Epoxy resin, acrylic color, wooden frame. 40.5 x 21.5 x 7cm x 50panels
As soon as I entered, the Misty series caught my eye. Compared to the intense colors of the Who Likes Colors? series, this series seems to focus more on spatial and temporal qualities.
In a way, it is a landscape without clear visible forms, but there are many elements that unfold the story in different directions. This series was introduced last year at the ASIA NOW event in Paris, and shown again this year at my solo exhibition at Hakgojae Gallery in Seoul, attracting great interest from collectors.
Is there a specific encounter with a collector that you remember most fondly?
I have met many major collectors at exhibitions in Great Britain, France, Belgium, and other countries. An English collector who has a chalet, a type of luxury home, bought two pieces of my work at the London Art Fair. It was the gallery’s first meeting with a super-collector, and everyone was overjoyed that my work brought them together. It is a chalet tradition to throw a party on the day a new piece in the collection is received. In the existing collection at the chalet were incredible works, including Picasso’s. Last year, at the ASIA NOW exhibition in France, one collector purchased all of my work on display. His name is Jérémie Delecourt, a castellan of Normandy. A Belgian gallerist told me, “You can put him at the top of your list of collectors.” There is one collector I will remember painfully. Last year, on the opening day of Art Miami, a Mexican collector purchased all four pieces sized 100 by 100 centimeters. Art Miami’s top collector choosing a Korean artist’s work made the news. In the end, the sale fell through because of a hacking incident. I have hopes that I will find other great collectors.
When was the first moment that you thought to express human nature in color work?
I chose the mechanism based on the fact that fundamentally, everyone has a favorite color. The primary goal of my work is to serve as a guide for the viewer to come to a painting, drawn to the color that he most favors. The other mechanism is the line, the most basic and primal drawing element.
What color are you personally drawn to?
Ironically, I like warm blue. Instinctively, my emotion and sensibility seek out the color blue. The blue that I think is warm is close to royal blue. On the surface, it appears cold and aloof, but it radiates relaxed and abundant energy from its core.
<Who likes Blue?>, 2017. Epoxy resin, acrylic color, aluminum frame. 122 x 82 x 6cm
The angle of the new framing is interesting.
Through trial and error, I arrived at 23.5 degrees. That way, I was able to arrive at the angle I liked. Even from the side, the frame is hidden and only the painting’s surface is visible. The tilt of the earth’s axis is also 23.5 degrees.
<Zero-1>, 2017. Epoxy resin, acrylic color, aluminum frame, 102 x 102 x 6cm
We perceive the three-dimensional earth to be flat when looking at the horizon. The dreams and desires of the people who sought to see beyond the horizon overlap with the stories of people challenging themselves to go beyond the limits.
That’s right. How much do we actually see when we say that we see? Looking at the straight line of the horizon over the sea, we are curious of what lies beyond. This applies to the process of layering, which forges “space” while maintaining the originality of the basic condition of flatness. First, you are attracted by color and approach it. You see lines, so you look closer and find a depth that creates space. Traveling past the lines between the flat transparent surfaces of resin layers, one finds another flat surface. What do we see beyond that plane, and the next plane? How far can we see? Like Columbus, who ventured across the vast sea to find a new continent, people are perhaps most curious about what is not immediately visible. When I go to exhibitions overseas, I hear a common question. Seeing an Eastern artist, they bring up concepts like void and nothingness to discuss my work. I do not wish to engage in such insubstantial discussion. No matter what depth one reaches through the canvas, one finds a vacuum. Perhaps I want to show something like the birth of the earth from a mysterious world of vacuum, a primeval place, a kind of seed.
<Who likes Yellow?>, 2017. Epoxy resin, acrylic color, aluminum frame. 102 x 167 x 6cm.
The Half of It series is about seeing harmony and balance, and Pursy the Color sets a frame through which to see the world.
<Who likes Gray?>, 2017. Epoxy resin, acrylic color, aluminum frame. 102x 167x 6cm
I can not fail to mention two people that you have made special connections with, Dr. Hong Kai, philosopher of art and science, and world-renowned art critic John Rajchman.
Nam June Paik and Kai Hong were the two most influential figures for college art students in the 1980s. The former aroused tremendous, sensational interest as an artist, and the latter burst onto the scene and caused an enormous shock as an art critic. Kai Hong eventually left Korea for the US. When he returned ten years later, I was the first artist he met. He told me that he saw my work at a gallery and thought, “I would like to write about this artist.” As with Gilles Deleuze, who was inspired to write about Francis Bacon’s work, stories arose in Dr. Hong when he saw the back of a woman in Beyond the Visible. I am very fond of the long essay that he wrote from that encounter. After transitioning to abstraction, I held an exhibition in Korea for the first time in eight years. Seeking someone who could read the essence of my work, I asked Dr. Hong to write an introduction, and he graciously agreed. I still read and study Dr. Hong’s writing and consider my direction. Dr. Hong and I are planning to publish a book together. I met Professor John Rajchman at Korea Tomorrow 2010. After seeing my work as an observer of the exhibition, he came to my studio in Busan. I was shocked when he broke down the “in-between space” in my work so lucidly. I saw Prof. Rajchman again several years later at the Busan Biennale. When I showed him my abstract pieces, he gave them their fateful titles, Who likes [name of color]?, which ask light questions. In-between Space, the title that I had been considering, is somewhat heavy.
A typical frame for his work is 6–7 centimeters thick, and a 100 x 100 centimeter piece weighs 10–15 kilograms. Ten to eighteen layers of epoxy resin imbue a flat plane with spatiality. The artist scores thin lines and inlays color by painting over the surface and wiping away excess paint.
You began your career overseas as a contract artist for Mauger contemporary art gallery in London, and took your first steps to becoming an internationally-recognized artist in global art markets centered on painting.
The work I showed in England was abstract color work. A gallerist said, “The more I look, the more stories arise.” People are most curious about the work process. On the one hand, the work is accessible and familiar, but on the other hand, it is permeated with an emotion that is difficult to interpret. I think that draws people strongly. Later, when I exhibited my work in New York, people approached me in the same way. I was encouraged. I think that now is the real beginning.
Scanning the heated drying room where the beginning and final processes take place, the work table on which paints are organized by color, and the pile of rags used to wipe paint in the coloring process, one sees an intersection of order and chaos. Artist Kim Hyun Sik’s studio is divided into several rooms. The rags of every color are a byproduct of the creative process. The artist plans to use them for an installation piece. Green is the first color that the artist chose for the installation, which will be composed of colored strings and epoxy icicles. This implies that he has already painted a “scenery” in his mind.
I am out of breath just looking at your scheduled exhibitions in Korea and abroad until next year.
Currently, I am working primarily on pieces to show at Art Basel Hong Kong next year. Next week, I have a meeting with the Hong Kong Whitestone Gallery. Next year, I am participating in ASIA NOW in Paris and Frieze New York in Manhattan. I need to make sure that I am prepared.
TEXT NAM-MI CHANG (Contents Director of magazine ARTMINE)
VOD Video Team of magazine ARTMINE
PHOTOGRAPHY MIN-SEOK CHOI (STUDIO PEN)
IMAGES OF THE ART WORKS © HYUN-SIK KIM– ARTMINING, SEOUL, 2018
PHOTO © ARTMINING – magazine ARTMINE / MIN-SEOK CHOI