Hyon Gyon: 500 words
6 November 2017
For all its significance in the world, lovemaking lasts, on average, just eleven minutes. Or so wrote Paulo Coelho in his 2003 book Eleven Minutes, which followed a young Brazilian prostitute's sexual awakening and search for the meaning of love. On view in Hyon Gyon's solo exhibition Cruel World at Ben Brown Fine Arts Hong Kong (21 September–9 November 2017), the South Korean artist's painting of the same title is inspired by the book's suggestive quantification. Over two metres tall, Eleven Minutes (2014) is a near-monochrome record of bodily movement—clumps of ivory encaustic are embedded with tufts of white faux fur and chalky cloth taken from Hyon's bed. Painting on the ground in her former New York studio, Hyon moved the wet materials with her hands, piling masses of paint in areas and scraping it off in others. When satisfied with the results, she tipped the canvas up and poured boiling white wax from one end, letting the liquid drip over the painting and eventually harden. The work, in its paleness, calls comparisons to Robert Ryman's paintings of a similar palette, while the connotations of the bed as both setting for erotic happenings and as artistic material harks back to Tracey Emin's seminal My Bed (1998).
Hyon Gyon, Eleven Minutes (2014). Installation view: Hyon Gyon, Cruel World, Ben Brown Fine Arts, Hong Kong (21 September–9 November 2017). Courtesy Ben Brown Fine Arts.
Part of a series of eleven similar paintings, Eleven Minutes's lack of colour stands in contrast to the other works in Cruel World. The exhibition also includes large-scale paintings from Hyon's 'Harlem Gold' series, in which acrylic paint doodles inspired by New York are pasted over with gold leaf; erratic and abstract 'still life' paintings made by applying vibrant paint to burnt foam and Korean fabrics; and small, non-bake clay sculptures enveloped in oil paint. The most modest yet some of the more compelling works in the show, the small sculptures are drawn with tiny, frightening faces and emerged from Hyon's desire to take a break from painting and do just about anything else.
This frustration with painting is familiar to anyone who dabbles in it, let alone has engaged so deeply as Gyon has. Born in 1979, Hyon studied Western painting in Korea before earning a master's degree and a PhD in painting at Kyoto City University of Arts. It was in Japan that she began her works based on shamanism, grief, cultural identity and mysterious human emotions. Growing up, Hyon felt burdened by the widespread repression of women in Korea, and has since used art as a cathartic process to release her feelings. Such purging of emotion is evident in the raw energy of her works, including those in Cruel World, which often bear evidence of their profoundly physical making. Inspired by Coelho's book in making Eleven Minutes, Hyon attempted to complete the painting within those brief few moments. However, given the complexity and the weight of the materials, she was unable to finish it in time. Still, a beautiful connotation remains in the work: painting as an act of love.–[O]