Frame 61

Sunyoung Hwang

Frame 61
Sunyoung Hwang
 

“As the entire process of painting happens only on the canvas, each painting has its own sense of the passage of time, and there comes a time when it seems to reach the end spontaneously.”

 

Interview by: Jillian Knipe

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? Where did you study?

I am a London-based Korean painter. I was born in Seoul, to a realistic mother and a dreamer father. Having both tendencies, I grew up in a family in which rational thoughts and fanciful reveries were simultaneously present—mixed up, in harmony, or in conflict with one another.

I came to London to study for my BFA at the Slade School of Fine Art when I was 21 years old, then went back to South Korea after graduating and stayed there for 2 years until I came back to London again in 2014. Then I completed my MA in Painting at the Royal College of Art in London and have been working in a studio in Bow, East London.

Your work goes through an intense process of multiple layering, so how does it begin and how do you know when it is finished?

My work does not begin with a plan as I do not really have a specific inspiration or the end result in my mind when I get started. I like to explore physical and psychological layering with an intuitive approach to painting, almost like free association. It evolves from my first brush stroke on the canvas without preliminary sketches, drawings, or photographic references, and then I intuitively overlap multitudinous layers of different times and spaces, tempos and rhythms, gestures and functions, temperatures and emotions by responding to preceding layers and letting one layer lead to another. But as the work progresses, I apply conscious control to endow it with order and coherence. Finding a balance between order and disarray, my work is like organised chaos.

It is not until I finish a painting that I come to know where it was heading and how close it was to the final image, so deciding to finish a painting is the most difficult and time-consuming part of my work. As the entire process of painting happens only on the canvas, each painting has its own sense of the passage of time, and there comes a time when it seems to reach the end spontaneously. I just let it end that way, just as it began. Not knowing what the painting is about and when it will reach the end, while the work is in progress, makes me anxious but it also excites me.

  The Echoes of Forgotten Nights, Installation View, Nunnery Gallery, 2018

The Echoes of Forgotten Nights, Installation View, Nunnery Gallery, 2018

  Broken Sleep, 2017

Broken Sleep, 2017

  Dreams Turn Us Inside Out, 2017

Dreams Turn Us Inside Out, 2017

  (Left) Late Night Walk, 2017 (Right) Night Diving, 2017

(Left) Late Night Walk, 2017 (Right) Night Diving, 2017

You’ve mentioned revealing and concealing, as well as ‘alluding to a hidden presence, an invisible fullness’, so that the image becomes elusive. Do you have a sense of how you’d like the viewer to experience the work?

Full of ambiguity, uncertainty, and fluidity, my paintings are not intended to be read as recognisable, figurative elements as they do not directly depict anything. Instead, they can be described as a physical manifestation of the unconscious, incoherent flow, or of compressed layers of metaphorically internalised thoughts, emotions, memories, impressions—sensory, associative, and subliminal, and as an attempt to uncover hidden relationships among these.

Through an iterative process of concealing and revealing layers, sometimes earlier layers are covered with others, leaving few or no traces. When the viewer attempts to read myriad layers in my work inwards from the outside, tracking the paths of my brush, and to explore echoes of the earlier, invisible layers, they may unearth the accumulated or buried histories within the painting. Yet exactly what those histories are remains deliberately ambiguous and mysterious, alluding to an invisible accumulation, such as a hidden presence, an invisible fullness, or an empty but intense moment that are implicit in, or exist beneath or between layers of what is perceptible. The hidden presences may reveal themselves when the viewer transforms visual sensations experienced within the work into their own meaningful images through synesthetic experience—the visual sensations become multisensory stimuli creating visual, tactile or auditory imagery. This is when seeing the invisible, touching the impalpable, or hearing silence are made possible through the tangibility of paint on canvas, so the painting becomes personal to whoever is viewing it, facilitating physical and psychological immersion in a visceral way.

Can you describe how you work with colour to achieve such curious combinations?

My choice of colours is not a conscious decision but is based on my intuition and instinct, so I would say it is more like a conversation between different rhythms, gestures, or temperatures of each individual colour when they merge together on one canvas. I play with varying degrees of opacity or transparency of the colours through cumulative layering and wiping, and that may contribute to create a sense of depth and a rich atmosphere in my work.

Tell us a bit about how you spend your day / studio routine? What is your studio like?

I like and try to get in to the studio in the morning, though I am a night owl, not really a morning person, and I spend as much time as possible in there no matter what I do. The first thing I do is look at my work in a leisurely way, with fresh eyes. This is the most important part of my studio routine, and at this point I try not to think about the paintings but just sit unhurriedly for some time, looking at the large works from a distance or taking a closer look at them. I sometimes sit for hours doing nothing but watching the subtle changes of tone, light, or mood in the paintings as they appear different at different times of the day and according to temperature of the natural light coming through the windows. Then, I think about the next move and before I move on, take some photos of the works in progress in order to record the whole process. Once I start to paint, my studio becomes hectic, as I prefer working on a bunch of paintings at once rather than working on one piece at a time. I always work on 4 or 5 large paintings and about 10 smaller ones at the same time, walking around here and there in the studio, and I finish almost all of them at around the same time.

My studio is quite big but it is a mess containing a jumble of canvases—finished canvases, canvases in progress, stretched canvases not yet begun. Some are leaning against the wall and some are lying on the floor, and they keep changing positions as I move them several times a day while I am painting, so the studio looks different every day.

  The Echoes of Forgotten Nights, Installation View, Nunnery Gallery, 2018

The Echoes of Forgotten Nights, Installation View, Nunnery Gallery, 2018

  We See the Invisible, Touch the Intangible, and Hear Silence 1,2,3, 2016

We See the Invisible, Touch the Intangible, and Hear Silence 1,2,3, 2016

  I Don't Mind Swimming in the Rain, 2017

I Don't Mind Swimming in the Rain, 2017

  Thickness of Night, 2017

Thickness of Night, 2017

What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?

Michael Armitage’s show at the South London Gallery was stunning. It was my first time to see his paintings in person, and his work was much more powerful than I had expected. Sometimes I feel a little let down when I first see a painting in person that I had only seen in photographs before, and it looks less attractive than the photographs, but when I saw his show, I felt quite the opposite. There is something more to his work that the camera cannot capture: it has a calm and subtle, but very intense mood. I also love the way his paintings speak. Although they may have seemed to be speaking, I felt like they were actually listening to the viewer very carefully. The chapel-like qualities of the gallery space facilitated my immersion in his large-scale paintings and the meditative moment made me feel like I was becoming a part of the works.

I also recently visited the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark and was deeply impressed that it made no distinction between art, architecture, and landscape, inside and outside the museum, the exhibition space and the non-exhibition space. I think it is really an ideal place for works of art.

Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?

I had a solo exhibition in London at the beginning of this year and after that I spent two whole months travelling to many places, from the Blue Cave on the island of Biševo in Croatia to Cabo da Roca in Portugal. Now, back to my daily life, I have been completely focused on studio work, creating a new body of work, and I will devote myself to painting and having a show or two for the rest of this year.

www.sunyounghwang.co.uk

Publish date: 02/10/2018
All Images are courtesy of the artist