Ghostly portraits of human emotion and experience

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Ghostly portraits of human emotion and experience


“Depth” (2008), left, and “Splash” (2008), right, by Japanese contemporary artist Hideaki Kawashima. Provided by the Kukje Gallery

Japanese artist Hideaki Kawashima’s strikingly delicate paintings stay in your mind for a long time after you’ve seen them.

Kawashima, 40, arrived in Seoul four months ago to prepare for a solo exhibition, titled “Wandering,” which opens today.

He spent the time creating large and small acrylic paintings each of a floating face with dark eyes and long hair, reminiscent of Japanese manga, or comic books.

Some 30 paintings - half of which were painted in Seoul and the rest in Tokyo - are on display.

“The ones I painted here turned out more dynamic,” the artist said during an interview at the gallery, gazing left and right at “Splash” (2008), which was painted in Seoul and “Depth” (2008), completed in Tokyo. He describes the latter as more “quiet.”

“Of course, I didn’t intend for any difference in the outcome. It was simply how my emotions were absorbed in two different surroundings.”

Though the acrylic canvases on display have a similar, ghost-like aesthetic, each face bursts with different emotions.

They are feelings that everyone has experienced in life - anger, suffering, desire, revenge, fear.

“Each [face] has depth and engages viewers from any distance,” Kawashima said, explaining that the faces are meant to stare back.

The artist wants viewers to engage with the paintings in order to provoke thoughts of his or her own inner self.

“[Working on] each painting was an act of suffering,” he says.

“Until I was done with one piece, I couldn’t move on to the next one.”

But he says he still managed to keep his heart tranquil.

In fact, in 1995, Kawashima left for the mountains to become a monk at the Hieizan Enryakuji temple in Kyoto, Japan. He wanted to free himself from attachments to worldly belongings and concentrate on his spirituality.

After two years, however, he thought he was losing his way in life - he wasn’t sure if he would adjust to living within a Buddhist society.

So he returned to the arts scene to forge his career. He says that being an artist was his fate.

“I was listening to the call of my own voice,” he said.

Kawashima has taken part in group exhibitions at the National Museum of Contemporary Art, in 2004, and at Kukje Gallery, in 2007. Wandering is his first solo exhibition here.

“Wandering” runs until March 29 at the Kukje Gallery in Sogyeok-dong, central Seoul. Anguk subway station, line No. 3, exit 1. For information, call (02) 735-8449 or visit

By Lee Eun-joo Staff Reporter []
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