Through Hyperrealism, Korean Painter Sung Kook Kim Replicates and Reinvents the Everyday
In hyperrealist paintings, Sung Kook Kim examines everyday life while exposing details and gestures to greater scrutiny. For his second solo exhibition at Seoul’s Gallery LVS, “Hiatus,” he presented 24 paintings that call attention to the effect of framing, repetition, and fracture. The resulting imagery varies from surreal genre scenes to cityscapes, to allegorical figuration similar to Robert Longo’s “Men in the Cities” series.
One pair of paintings, Embracing and Spread (both 2014) shows the development of an installation, followed by a woman standing alone within it. Spread depicts a girl in a blue-and-white floral-print camisole examining the same pattern blown up and painted onto a wall gridded off with green tape. The pattern has begun to develop on the flat, white gallery wall from the point where she touches it with her fingertip, as if literally painted by hand or by magic. In Embracing (2014), she stands in front of the completed mural, stepping on her shirt, which is bunched up on the floor. She holds her hands in a meditative pose—they cross her body and the palms face upwards, her eyes closed, feet bare. The parable of the consecutive pictures touches on the meditative creation of art, the indistinction between decoration and fine craft, and the passage of time that an artwork can portray.
In another grouping of paintings—Hiatus, Watching, Hanging, and Buttressing—Kim portrays a strange encounter where a woman is hoisting a man over a short wall. She supports his feet as he lays on top of the wall, hands at his sides, upper body and head obscured. The paintings crop the scene in different ways; in Buttressing the focus is on her hands and his feet, while Hiatus shows the entire scene, and Hanging examines the man’s bent body.
In an essay about the paintings, writer Hyeongjin Oh takes note of the collusion of high aesthetics and the everyday in Kim’s work: “I think of the inversion of art and everyday life when I encounter the subjects within and without the atelier repetitively used in Sung-Kook Kim’s works.” In another series of paintings, featuring the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul, Kim depicts the façade of the building with visitors entering and exiting. In each image, the museum has been decorated with images taken from fine arts and crafts, mirroring the objects that are stored within the stark, minimal architecture. Kim’s use of progression and repetition in painting is similar to artists such as Richard Estes, but his interest in narrative and his process of re-examination offer a new vision for the contemporary click, crop, remix, and re-tweet culture.