Hyon Gyon swears by an unusual artistic methodology. Taking after Korean shamanistic rituals, the artist heaps artificial flowers, plastic jewellery, rolls of satin or its cheaper equivalent, sateen onto the surface of her paintings. Using a soldering iron, she either melts these together to achieve a vibrantly colourful effect, or else, burns tiny holes and smaller patterns into them. Other times, she turns to the objects lying around in her studio, knives, forks, saws, to cut incisions into the canvas. For the 2017 We Were Ugly, Gyon ventured even further, thrusting her own body into the finished paintings to press cavities, injury-like shapes into the dense layers of molten paint and plastic.
Whilst shamans often experience the symptoms their patients turn to them with – if the client complains about pregnancy pains, their bellies might swell up; if somebody is experiencing sharp back pains, they too might face similar problems after a ritual – Gyon induces on herself an ardent, all-consuming pain, the incessant desire to destroy which her paintings capture so poignantly.
In an interview with The Artling, the artist prompts that she is the medium through which the paintings come to life. Unlike with most cases of artistic creation, in this case this sentence is taken literally: Gyon undergoes the same, vehement urges, harrowing fears, maddening losses and shattering traumas we catch sight of via her canvases. In the same interview, Gyon also describes a particularly intense period in her life, a two-month long artist residency in 2017 in Kyoto during which she finished her most monumental piece to date, We Were Ugly. At the time, the artist would spend days from beginning to end in the studio, barely taking breaks from painting. Eager to test out a new method, the lime mortar sgraffito, she would smear lime mortar across the 20.4-meter-long piece. After this, she would stick pieces of styrofoam and polyester across the surface, set them on fire, and keep on working for hours on end despite the thick clouds of toxic fume slowly emanating from the work. It was at this time she discovered she could also include her body into the artistic process, using her shoulders and torso to beat up her paintings.
The paintings are just as decadent and symbolically charged as the process of their creation: We Were Ugly shows millions and millions of tiny, dull grey skulls stacked up on the dust-covered railings of a catacomb, with vibrant, rainbow-coloured swaths of painting emanating from across the cracked, decaying bones. The piece extends in all dimensions: enormous bulges are poking out from the surface, with heaps of black, charred remnants of satin spread across the middle, and bits and bobs of plastic glued in the cracks.
The 2017 Last Man has a burnt-red, lumpy face of an older man in the middle, with a dozen or so roughly oval-shaped, emerald green, wheat-flower blue and royal purple egg-like blobs sticking out from its surrounds. One eye was replaced by what appears to be the stems of a fig, with an army of tiny, rotten yellow seeds covering up the hole. Instead of teeth, the man has off-beige, brown-ish, pistachio-like shrapnel of bone. Parts of the picture were covered up with a thin lacing of white goo. Similarly to We Were Ugly, here too it is the sheer brilliance of Gyon’s technique that astounds: layers of paint were mixed together with thin lines of molten satin create, creating a uniquely rich, staggering overall effect.
Citing a childhood memory during which she had to watch a shaman purging the spirit of her recently-deceased grandmother from the family house, Gyon tells Elephant that the passing of spirits, the evocation of old souls and the dead have always fascinated her. By creating paintings with a plethora of diamante skulls and charcoal-black holes, burnt-off faces and odd spiritual entities, Gyon achieves something similar to what a shaman might: she brings to mind the lost and the deceased, evoking the painful memory of those we have yet to forget.
Word: Leila Kosma
Copy edited by Elena Stanciu