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(Yonhap Interview) Beyond simplified paintings lies longing for family

All Headlines 17:10 April 30, 2018

By Woo Jae-yeon

SEOUL, April 30 (Yonhap) -- A group of oxen is described in clear dots, lines, shapes and planes. As the figures are so abstract and simplified, some gallerygoers might be left scratching their heads as they try to figure out what they represent.

Artist Hwang Young-sung said observing and painting a subject for a long time enabled him to simplify his subject matter.

"The more you paint, the simpler the subject becomes. Simplification means you only convey the very essence," Hwang said during a recent interview with Yonhap News Agency at Hyundai Hwarang. The 77-year-old painter is holding a solo exhibition titled "Silence of Oxen" from April 26-May 27 at the gallery in Seoul.

The image provided by Hyundai Hwarang and artist Hwang Young-sung shows a painting from Hwang's "Silence of Oxen" in 2017. (Yonhap)

Reflecting his childhood sentiments formed through a pastoral, bucolic life, the artist has consistently maintained his interest in people, his childhood thatched house and oxen, which he considered part of the family.

"I was invited to my friend's house for his father's 60th birthday. While sitting in the front yard, the view of the setting sun behind the thatched roof was absolutely magnificent," he explained how he got attached to his subject matters in the 1970s.

"I started to paint thatched-roof houses. Then I started to include people, domesticated animals and oxen in the paintings," he said.

Born in 1941 in Cheorwon, Gangwon Province, he became an orphan at age nine during the 1950-1953 Korean War. He escaped the brutality of the deadly war to settle in Gwangju, 330 kilometers south of Seoul, where he has lived and worked ever since.

The image provided by Hyundai Hwarang and artist Hwang Young-sung shows a painting from Hwang's "Family Series" in 2017. (Yonhap)

In a rural neighborhood, he grew up "riding oxen, feeding them and listening to their low voices," according to the artist's note.

Saying an ox reflects "myself and ourselves from those hard times," he wrote, "Reflecting on those times brings out forsaken but vivid, nostalgic memories, like surges of waves. Oxen in barns, oxen leading carts to local markets, the chaos at the cattle market and the little calves with their mothers. They all end up in my paintings."

In the '90s, he traveled around the world for more experiences that he hoped would inspire him artistically. After the travel that opened up his eyes for the wider world, the artist started one of his signature painting series, "Family Story." The series reflects his realization during the travel that everyone and every animal living on the planet belong to one big family.

In the series, he draws pictograms, themed with family and animals, in grid patterns, which the artist said was inspired by the famous 500 statues of Buddha in a temple in Gwangju. He used to peep through a torn paper window to see the statues when he was young, he said.

The image provided by Hyundai Hwarang and artist Hwang Young-sung shows a painting from Hwang's "Family Series" in 2015. (Yonhap)

The ongoing solo show exhibits a series of black oxen paintings, a new style that he said symbolizes his desire to start anew. Previously he showed a white oxen series.

"When you mix every color of paint together, you get black. So for me, black implies everything," he said, adding the title "Silence of Oxen" connotes an untold story of him.

"The ox is me and, by extension, Korean people. Silence in the title implies our stories yet to be told and many pent-up possibilities in the future."

South Korean painter Hwang Young-sung poses for photos in front of his painting in Hyundai Hwarang in Seoul in this undated photo provided by the gallery. (Yonhap)


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