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Freedom from the Expressionist Value, “Anything Goes.”


The Freedom of the Expressionist Value of “Anything Goes”

The artist SEO, who is based in Germany, will present her work at Kiaf Seoul under the theme of ‘In-Between Worlds’.
The artist, who majored in oriental painting in Korea and studied expressionism in Germany, has been caught between the disparate cultures of East and West.
So, she thought of mangroves, which only grow on the coast or estuaries where fresh and salt water meet.
“In the mangrove forest, two completely different worlds, the river and the sea, meet to create a ‘middle ground,’ which I thought was similar to my own life,”
she says, adding that the mangrove forest reminds her of our own struggle to adapt to a rapidly changing environment.

SEO, 세오, Spiegelberg, 2022, Acrylic on canvas, 200 × 165 cm

It’s interesting that you left for Germany after majoring in Oriental painting in undergraduate school.

I went to study abroad to learn from Georg Baselitz, a representative of neo-expressionism. I was overwhelmed by his wild brushstrokes and emotional expression. Expressionism was once labeled as decadent art by the Nazis because of its overt expression, but Baselitz was subversive enough to paint upside down and backwards. At first glance, it seems very different from oriental painting, but I felt that the inner expression is not so dissimilar.

SEO, 세오, Traumfeld IV, 2022, Acrylic, paper collage on canvas, 130 × 160 cm

Your work doesn’t look like Baselitz’s. How were you influenced by him?

It was rumored in Berlin that Baselitz’s class was unique, and no one could copy his work. The advice he gave me during my early frustrations abroad still sticks with me: “Never forget where you came from.” My work has changed since then, and I’m grateful to him for giving me the direction to find my identity.

SEO, 세오, Wenn Meer und Fluss sich treffen, 2022, Acrylic on canvas, 170 × 270 cm

You use Hanji (traditional Korean paper) in your oil paintings, so your artistic process brings together different cultures.

One day, I tore up a piece of Hanji and added color on top of it. Hanji absorbs color quickly, and because of its texture, you can feel the warmth of the material when you tear it up. That unintentionally led me to tear up the Hanji and make it more expressive. The work contains hundreds of thousands of pieces of Hanji and hundreds of thousands of brushstrokes. That’s why you can feel the depth of the painting, like three dimensions.

Was Hanji a choice to express a Korean sentiment?

I didn’t strategically use Hanji to express a particular Korean sentiment, as I was familiar with the material from my oriental painting days, but it was natural for me to use it in Germany, where I went to study Expressionism, given its value of “anything goes.” I think the most personal things are the most universal, and that’s why it gained attention on the world stage.

Interview by Heaseung Kang, published on Kiaf 2022 Catalogue