Words Worth
interviewer: Gabriel Ritter
The Culture Magazine-Giant Robot Issue 42, 2007

GR: One of your more recent drawings, She~, has many layers of meaning and contradiction, There are the English letters, the double meaning as a Korean onomatopoeia for urinating, and finally the actual image itself, that of a young nude boy. This work seems conceptually more complicated than previous works but also highlights your particular sense of humor. Could you talk about this piece?

SHY: In English, “she” is a woman. In Korean, it’s the sound of pee and the image of a little boy. What is important, or real? Who is the little boy? Who am I ? I want to chase away these kinds of heavy meanings and thoughts through humor. (if only it were possible!)

GR: Do you consider yourself part of the long lineage of traditional landscape painters from Korea, or do you identify more with Western, contemporary artists working with more conceptual issues?

SHY: Making distinctions between the East and West doesn’t have any meaning for my work. I just work as a contemporary artist.

GR: Unlike your black-and-white landscape paintings, some of your earlier paintings are done with very bright fluorescent colors. What is the appeal for you in these opposing palettes?

SHY: the nature of fluorescent colors is that in contrast to ordinary colors, they are strong, chintzy, grating, and really stand out. And despite my original intentions, some of the works with fluorescent colors end up looking sweet and even elegant actually, the reason I used fluorescent colors was because they’re pretty. They also help clear my mind. But when I worked with them, my eyes really hurt. That’s why I wore sunglasses when I worked with them. Come to think of it, my state of mind was kind of weird at that point. But I still like fluorescent colors. I plan on working on more fluorescent pieces, and I am also thinking about showing them in my next solo show.

GR: At your latest exhibition at One and J. Gallery in Seoul, there seemed to be a more playful style emerging in some of your new work (O.E., the tiger with colorful clouds). Is this a new direction for you?

SHY: When I come up with humorous ideas and drawings that are not tied to an original painting, I think that the process ends up being more exciting and a pleasant form of play. This is more in line with my own personal tastes, actually, the kinds of works like the tiger piece were already in the process of being made at the same time as my earlier word-based works.

GR: One of your most recent drawings is a recreation of An Kyon’s Dream Journey to the Peach Blossom Land. This is probably one of the most well-known Korean landscape paintings ever made. What inspired your appropriating this work, and what challenges did it pose?

SHY: I chose Dream Journey to the Peach Blossom Land because it just seemed so charming.

GR: You have enlarged that particular hand-scroll painting to almost 122 x 305 cm. what role does scale play in your work?

SHY: when I made the smaller landscapes, the words could be heard in tiny whipers. But as the works got larger in scale, I discovered that the boisterousness, the loudness of the writings seemed to become even stronger.