Images & Texts by Hong Il Hwa
One of the most popular materials used in horror movies are figures that resembles human such as mannequins, plaster figures and portraits. Portraits make a chilling medium in horror movies, as many believe that it can convey human soul and be alive but only to be able to move its eyes. In 2007 a Korean horror movie about a legend of portrait filmed in Vietnam was released and the famous line of the movie says, “The one sees the portrait will meet the death”
The trailer raises your goose bumps with a whisper saying “they say the portrait ‘Muoi’ holds a powerful spirit… when you stare into the eyes, it feels as if the spirit is trying to steal your soul…” I myself am a painter who enjoys working on portraits and I normally start a portrait with eyes and end it with finals touchups on the eyes. I personally cherish conversations with eye contact rather than simple exchange of words.
However I would like to take your attention away from the eyes and tell you about a little anecdote about my “scary” painting. Most of collectors would hang a new collection in public places such as company cafeteria, gym, and hallway where there are many passersby. You must know that many of my early portraits have very exaggerated eyes that glare out.
One collector had 5 of my paintings hung in a company gym and many employees have filed an official complaint directly to the chairman saying the paintings are so disturbingly scary that they can’t even enter the gym. So he ended up moving my paintings to the company gallery.
Seeing portraits in public places isn’t so common in Korea so I understand the reaction. I have heard much worse incidents, which makes this story rather encouraging for me. One of traditional Korean painter Mr. Jeong is known for his hyper realistic paintings of rear view of woman in Hanbok. One of his paintings which was hung in a company cafeteria also didn’t get to stay there for long.
He had worked on the crisp texture of Hanbok, traditional accessories and delicate embroideries to such sophisticated detail. However people had complained about little exposure of the feet. The superstition of a painting of woman with her feet would walk around freely at night, had people so scared of the painting that they had to take it away.
I don’t think there is a better compliment than people’s instant assumption on the painting possessing a soul. However that also provokes rather difficult perspective for portraits in Korea. There are people who love my painting for how I painted the eyes then there are people who dislike my paining for the same element. Once I had started a portrait series with environmental pollution theme.
The nature is being destroyed for our obsession of beauty was metaphorically expressed with dripping dark oil on animal skins. Some of the visitors have said that they couldn’t bare my painting because the dark liquid oil in my painting looked too eerie. I can’t criticize people for simply feeling scared of my painting but if I could hope for one thing of these people is to consider different perspective or curiosity instead of severing interest in something because of an instant fear.
Contributor, Hong Il Hwa
A Korean artist, Hong Il Hwa is a member of the Korean Modern Contemporary Printmakers Association, and a member of SONAMU artist association in Paris. He was attracted by public when he won the Chunghyun Mecenat young artist award in 2008.
홍일화 작가는 한국 현대판화가 협회 회원이자 재불 소나무 작가 협회 회원이다. 2008년에는 정헌메세나 재유럽 청년작가상을 수상 등 다양한 대회에서 예술성을 인정받았으며 현재 파리와 서울을 중심으로 작품 활동 중이다.