Hypnotic eyes that create a subversive atmosphere

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Hypnotic eyes that create a subversive atmosphere


“Self-Portrait” by Kang Hyung-koo Provided by the gallery

A documentary about the artist Kang Hyung-koo made for his current exhibit “The Gaze” offers a refreshing view of human eyes. Kang says it’s a mistake to think that we read the minds of others through their eyes, because at that very moment, they are reading our minds as well.
That’s exactly how a viewer can feel when surrounded by Kang’s portraits arranged on stark white walls. Perhaps his face series is so intense because it removes context and focuses exclusively on the face.
While people stare at the portraits, which include celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Andy Warhol plus everyday figures from the artist’s surroundings, it seems the characters in the paintings gaze back at the viewers.
The tension created is an experience similar to what happens when we confront others face-to-face.
The forceful eyes in Kang’s portraits have been a symbol of his works for years. The stark textures of the eyelids and the expressions they suggest are more spiritual than physical, offering a ghostly sense of vision. These are eyes made to feel, not see.
Yet Kang’s portraits are revealing. While he borrows his creative methods from hyper-realists like Chuck Close, his mug shots of famous people subvert the idea of beauty through the expressions he gives his subjects.
They are much more personalized than Close’s portraits, and are even slightly distorted by the use of monochrome. The eyes, the wrinkles and the facial expressions have been exaggerated to accentuate the artist’s interpretation of the subject’s character.
The idea becomes more complex when the artist presents his series of portraits from different eras and from his notion of how some celebrities would have looked if they had lived.
For example, Kang has painted Vincent van Gogh’s face dark green and wrinkled with a cigarette between his lips. The image suggests an exhausted man. On the same floor there is a piece depicting Marilyn Monroe at ninety. Looking at these portraits, one feels his work is more about distortion than realism, reflecting Kang’s of the world.

The Kang Hyung-koo exhibition runs through Aug. 19. The gallery opens from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Sunday. Admission is 3,000 won for adults, 2,000 won for students. For more information call the Arario Gallery at (041) 620-7259 or contact www.arariogallery.com.

By Park Soo-mee Staff Writer [myfeast@joongang.co.kr]
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