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(Yonhap Interview) Artist builds epic story on paper

2018/01/22 14:43

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By Woo Jae-yeon

SEOUL, Jan. 22 (Yonhap) -- Creating a drawing that tells as many stories as possible, thereby overcoming the limitations of the two-dimensional art, has been on the mind of artist Cho Duck-hyun for a long time.

His solo exhibition "Epic Shanghai," currently on view at PKM Gallery in Seoul, is in line with his lifelong artistic pursuit of taking the genre's narrative function to the next level.

"Although my work can be seen as being against the stream (of contemporary art), I've wanted to look into ways to expand its storytelling function," Cho, 58, told Yonhap News Agency in a recent interview.

"One good thing about drawing is that, compared with literature or video, it is less concrete, which means it gives viewers more room for imagination."

  

This photo provided by PKM Gallery in Seoul shows artist Cho Duck-hyun. (Yonhap) This photo provided by PKM Gallery in Seoul shows artist Cho Duck-hyun. (Yonhap)

For his first solo exhibition in two years, Cho follows the wild trajectory of the life of a fictional man named Cho Duck-hyun. The exhibition is a prequel to "Dream," his solo exhibit in 2015 at Ilmin Museum of Art in Seoul. While "Dream" focused on the latter life of Cho, who died in solitude in 1995, the latest exhibition visualizes Cho's earlier life during his heyday as an actor in Shanghai.

Interestingly, the artist "cast" a real-life actor who has the same name to visualize the fictional man, who was born in 1914 and died in 1995, for his epic story.

The confusing setup is an intentional way to make the story more convincing, the artist said, adding, "By mixing fiction and reality, viewers go through a mental illusion and are more likely to take the story as real."

  

Cho Duck-hyun's "1935" in a photo provided by the artist and PKM Gallery in Seoul (Yonhap) Cho Duck-hyun's "1935" in a photo provided by the artist and PKM Gallery in Seoul (Yonhap)

In two mega-sized drawings in pencil, "Gguum" and "1935," both 583 centimeters in width and 391 centimeters in height, the eventful life of Cho is recreated in meticulous, photo-realistic detail, through which viewers can also observe the tumultuous times and space in which he lived.

The artist chose early 20th century Shanghai as the setting of the story for the city's striking similarity with the world today.

"Old Shanghai has such a dramatic and eventful history," he said. "Between the First and Second World Wars, the West's money rushed in, bombs exploded, anxious people got addicted to drugs and so forth. Decadence was taking hold of the city."

  

Artist Cho Duck-hyun's "Midnight Shanghai 1" in a photo provided by the artist and PKM Gallery in Seoul (Yonhap) Artist Cho Duck-hyun's "Midnight Shanghai 1" in a photo provided by the artist and PKM Gallery in Seoul (Yonhap)

This image provided by Cho Duck-hyun and PKM Gallery in Seoul shows the artist's pigment print "Metaphor 6." (Yonhap) This image provided by Cho Duck-hyun and PKM Gallery in Seoul shows the artist's pigment print "Metaphor 6." (Yonhap)

Often called a "historical artist," Cho depicts numerous real-life incidents on paper. "Gguum" visualizes many tragic stories, including terrorism and a refugee crisis, through a time-consuming, rigorous process of research, composition and narrative-building.

"It is almost the same process of making a feature-length film. I am like a director who casts the right actors to tell a story," the artist, who teaches art at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, said.

His collaboration with Chinese writer Mien Mien, who currently lives and works in the Netherlands and has written "Candy," "Social Dance" and "Panda Sex," for "Dream" and "Epic Shanghai" demonstrates how important a role narrative plays in his drawing.

"When you read a good novel, you immerse yourself in it and forget everything. Hopefully, my work gives similar comfort to viewers in hard times," he said.

"Gguum" by artist Cho Duck-hyun in this image provided by the artist and PKM Gallery in Seoul (Yonhap) "Gguum" by artist Cho Duck-hyun in this image provided by the artist and PKM Gallery in Seoul (Yonhap)

jaeyeon.woo@yna.co.kr

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