South Korean artist Heo Chanmi's paintings document the stillness of city life, rendering lone cement blocks, stretches of pavement, and rogue vegetation in rapid strokes and muted palettes and incorporating materials found along her city walks.Read More
Born in Busan, Heo Chanmi studied Fine Arts at Kyungsung University in Busan, where she lives and works today.
Heo Chanmi's detached observations of Busan are focused studies of the city's streets, noting how they are changed by human alteration or natural progressions like time's passage or falling rain.
Capturing the vanishing and the forgotten, paintings like Daily Walking (2020) or City Ghost (2021) bring to life the lesser noted aspects of the city, showing close-ups of a small plant along a cement wall, or the scratched-up corner of an old building on a dirt road.
In other more matter-of-fact paintings like Rural Block (2020), lone cement blocks are depicted against a sparse pastel backdrop, or in City Block (2021), dirt piles, cones, and straw brooms appear almost serene, removed from the bustle of the streets.
As the 'Daily Walking Rehearsal' series suggests, Heo's paintings come closer to exercises in noticing and remembrance. They draw out observations concealed in a single place at a single moment and return to them over and over, thus giving them importance.
In Daily Walking rehearsals_Rooftop-sky (2020), a lone stroller can be seen on a grey pavement, while rogue vegetation aggregate on the canvas in the 'After Storm' series (2020—2021). After Storm (2021), depicting a single pear-shaped, bright green form, hints at Heo's interest in lone subjects and abstraction.
The rare purple or blue in Daily Walking rehearsal_Roofsea (2020) and City Explorer (2021) do not appear to brighten Heo's cityscapes, which retain their blurred strokes and sober subjects— in this case, a rooftop scene and a magpie on a piece of rebar.
Heo Chanmi locates her subject matter as she roams across the city, taking note of unappreciated things to later replicate them on canvas. Along her walks, Heo will often collect weeds and twigs to use as painting tools, thereby recreating her journey and giving form to things that would otherwise fade from memory.
In 2019, the artist painted Samilgongsa with a blanket that kept her warm in commemoration of the violence committed by the Samil Corporation, a military organisation that committed mass violence in the Mangimi area in the name of national security.
Heo's paintings veer towards abstraction, with paintings like Two Men (2021) depicting two lone figures standing apart against a turbid grey background. It is difficult to say whether the scene is set in nature or reimagined from a concrete jungle.
Further gouache paintings like the 'Rolling Pillar' series depict thick boxing gloves grasping at a construction pillar and arms pushing along a large white pillar, hinting at the tension between nature and urbanisation.
Heo Chanmi's work has been shown widely in South Korea, including at Wooson Gallery, Daegu (2021); Busan Biennale (2020); Gallery Migo, Busan (2020); Gachang Art Studio, Daegu (2019); Chang Ucchin Museum of Art, Gyeonggi (2019); Suchang Youth Mansion, Daegu (2019); Hongti Art Center, Busan (2018); Busan Museum of Art (2018); Changwon Convention Center (2018); 40 Stairs Square, Busan (2018); Art Space Bomulsum, Gyeongsan (2018); Kim's Art Field Museum, Busan (2016); and Space Manduk, Busan (2016).
Elaine YJ Zheng | Ocula | 2021