with works by SON Donghyun
The exhibition can be divided into two bodies of work. One is about the portraits of the roles that the voice actor Hansung Bae had. Before the 2000’s, foreign movies or dramas were usually played in dubbed versions for the convenience of viewers. Famous actors even had specific voice actors. Hansung Bae was responsible for dubbing the voices of Robin Williams and Al Pacino. He also dubbed Mozart in Amadeus, Bunny in Tooniverse and Inspector Gadget. The glory days of the production of dubbed foreign movies were from 1980’s to 1990’s in movie programs such as KBS’s Film Theater or MBC’s Weekend Film. However, the increase of the video rental store, the appearance of satellite broadcasting, the rapid propagation of the Internet, and the demand for subtitles made dubbed films die out.
The actors or roles in Donghyun Son’s portrait paintings are particularly from the imported movies and dramas of the 2000’s. The subject of the portrait paintings is both from the box-office success and the movies in the artist’s personal memory. The references are from posters or still cuts of movies. When he painted from a color movie, the ink and wash technique was used, a white and black movie only with ink, and animation only with lines. The technique changes depending on the work. The progress of the work follows the progress of the cathode-ray tube television. If you had an opportunity to see his work in the past you would find this change in the current exhibition.
In the previous series, the technique was decided not for individual works but the whole series. The number of paintings in the series also had a meaning. For example, 40 portraits of Michael Jackson were painted in consideration of the number of his single albums. Above all, the subjects were icons of popular culture that no one could deny, such as Michael Jackson, Batman, and Coca Cola. In this respect his paintings have been subjective and strict. There is a certain distance between the artist and his subject, which shows the calm and mature attitude of the artist.
The subject in one of the new portrait series is Tony Leung. The artist chose one of the popular comic books, studied the method for depiction in it, and painted the portraits of Tony Leung according to the research. When he cannot paint things in a larger size he draws them in his sketchbook. These drawings can also be complete works. By comparison with previous work the new series focuses on the matter of representing a subject rather than applying the traditional technique. In other words his new series plays around with the issue of depicting itself. The other work such as the portraits of various actors in the technique that he learned from the depiction of villains in comics, and two portraits with the technique of Zombie comics also reflect the artist’s interest and attitude toward the way of depicting portraits.
The artist avoids explaining the detail by saying that, “I am not trying to put any grand meaning in the title.” The exhibition surely has depth with his two new series working together with the two words, body and soul. In the end paintings are about symbolization and composition. These cannot be separated with paintings. The difference comes in which one is focused on more. To be extreme, the collected and selected portrait series - using the voice actor Hansung Bae - puts the importance more on symbolization. They are painted from the call of the specific period. The faces you see in the exhibition show how the popular culture of the West was imported to Korea from the 1970’s to 1990’s. The production date of the films is not important. They constrictively and nonlinearly made an impact in Korea in a short period of time. Nevertheless they do not show the overall inflow but they are the faces of the imported popular culture on TV through the voice of Hansung Bae, which symbolizes the situation at the times and a specific generation who enjoyed watching a movie program on TV in Korea.
On the other hand the portraits of Tony Leung, using the technique of depiction from the comic book, put importance on composition. To see a picture is to make a distinction in style. A viewer attempts to find the unique and intrinsic style of an artist when enjoying his work. However, when an artist insists on practicing only one style it can also cause a decline in the whole perspective. A painting should reflect the custom of the time in which the artist lives whether it is conscious or unconscious. But this consideration does not mean that an artist has to accept or follow it; he has to have an active attitude towards it. In one style or technique, an artist cannot truly express himself.
A painter can depict not only what we see but also things hidden underneath it. Everything is possible but it is true that it is only possible. To have an interest in something, to choose a specific thing among them, and to paint about it are the jobs of a painter. There is no painter who does not find curiosity and pleasure in playing with a subject. This is the joy of creating an artwork. Would it be extreme to say that this solo exhibition is fully filled with composure and the potential possibilities of the artist? It also may not be the right answer.
Donghyun SON is a visual artist whose works combine traditional painting techniques from Northeast Asia with popular culture of the 20th and 21st centuries. He is a strong representation for young artists who dwell on the relationship between tradition and modernity in the technological age.
Although Son’s works recreate traditional painting methods, they also ask fundamental questions related to contemporary media and drawing. His works depict portraits of celebrities and fictional characters, attempting not only to capture their physical likeness, but also their essence and separated worlds. The artist’s narrative goes further to comment on how popular culture, particularly from the West, has been imported and received in his native Korea since the late 20th century. We commonly perceive that a painting should reflect the customs of the time in which the artist is living in, whether this be conscious or unconscious, and Son’s works are a prime challenge to this notion.