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Explosive Energy, Popular Sensibility of the Times, hence Pop

ARTIST INSIDE 2022 | Kyoungtack Hong

Explosive Energy, Popular Sensibility of the Times, hence Pop

Hong’s works are familiar to the public.
From the “Pencil” series to “Study” and “Funkchestra,” the artist draws inspiration from pop culture and uses pencils, pens, and other everyday objects as his subject matter.
His colorful paintings are full of energy, and his 1998 work “Pencil 1” was the highest-priced Korean contemporary artwork ever sold at Christie’s auction in Hong Kong.
His eye for capturing the public sensibility of the times is said to be perceptive.
Bright but not light, his work is pop art.

Kyoungtack Hong, 홍경택, Pens-Anonymous, 2021, Oil on linen, 227 × 181 cm

There’s a rhythmic explosion of colors and shapes filling your canvas, and I’m curious about the source of that energy.

It usually comes from listening to music. I love popular music, mostly from the 1970s to the 1990s, and I’m always looking for new music to listen to, but I always end up going back to that. I listen to music to work, and I’m partial to dance music because it takes me into a world of pure pleasure. Music has more energy than any other art form, and I find myself immersed in my work in just a few minutes. When your emotions are elevated, you become a conductor in that moment.

Kyoungtack Hong, 홍경택, Skull, 해골, 2008, Oil on linen, 200 × 200 cm

The “Funkchestra” series, which refers to a funk orchestra, has more than a playful message. It borrows images from iconic stars of the era, including BTS, but what does it mean?

It’s a reflection of pop culture itself. What were once sacred religious icons are now replaced by the idols of mass media: Stars. People listen to song lyrics rather than poetry or novels, and they pay attention to the messages of YouTubers, so it’s primarily a reflection of that culture. There’s also the uncritical borrowing of song lyrics. For example, there’s a song by the British 1980s male duo the Pet Shop Boys that went something like, “I love you because you pay my rent.” It was a line that inspired my work.

Kyoungtack Hong, 홍경택, Fire & Fury, 2021, Acrylic & oil on linen, 181.8 × 227.3 cm

“Who is the master? Who is the slave?” is a work with a straightforward message, which will also be exhibited at Kiaf Seoul. Can explosive energy also be seen as an expression of resistance?

We have the illusion that we live in a very free society. On one level, yes. There’s more abundance than ever before. If you just want to live within the matrix that someone has laid out for you, that’s fine, but if you refuse to live a normal life, the world becomes very harsh. There’s a lot of collective stressors like oppression in the name of tradition and ideological conflicts. When you act out, you have to put up with more than you need to. Maybe I’m particular about catharsis in my work as a reaction to this sometimes visible and sometimes invisible oppression.

Kyoungtack Hong, 홍경택, Master & Slave, 2010, Acrylic & oil on linen, 130 × 193.5 cm

What changes will we see in the future? I’m also curious about your interests these days.

Rooftop gardening is my only outlet these days, and after my mother passed away last year, I planted a lot of things to fill the void. It’s my own way of remembering her, and I think new work might come out of the flowers and trees in the garden. I’m also thinking of using more popular mediums like prints and posters.

Interview by Heaseung Kang, published on Kiaf 2022 Catalogue