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Overlaying Time

Huh Myoungwook

Gana Art presents Overlaying Time, a solo exhibition by Huh Myoungwook (b. 1966), who continually works with his unique method of transferring traces of time—in its entirety—to flat surfaces. He interprets ottchil, traditional lacquer, in a modern way to present artworks in a variety of genres, crossing the boundaries between fine art and practical art through painting, sculpture, and craftwork. Huh’s work has been displayed at major domestic institutions such as the National Museum of Korea and the Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA) and has been presented internationally through solo exhibitions at the Itami City Museum of Art (Itami, Japan), Monet Gallery (Osaka, Japan), and Helen J Gallery (Los Angeles, US). Notably, in addition to his paintings and sculptures, part of Huh’s most recent work that seeks to capture the “time of nature” is presented as a video in this exhibition. This exhibition presents an opportunity to not only encounter Huh’s oeuvre, but also experience his creative trajectory as it expands into a wider scope of action.

Huh Myoungwook, Untitled, 2023, Ottchil on fabric, 51 x 43 cm

“It is possible to capture time through works?” is the question repeatedly addressed in Huh’s works. The traditional and modern colors commonly present in his works are his “colors of the day,” each created based on the emotions and energy of their particular day. Huh decided that color could effectively represent his life and self and, after endless exploration to perfectly materialize the desired colors, ultimately chose lacquer (ottchil) as his medium of expression. The distinctive characteristic of lacquer is that the colors painted on a surface do not immediately reveal their original hues; instead, they are revealed over time through repeated painting and drying. The artist uses this feature to mix and paint new colors every day, merging the time it takes for the lacquer to dry into the very works themselves. Time is thus visualized through ottchil, a medium with inherent temporality. In other words, for Huh, lacquer is not just a technique, but a means for representing his life.

Huh Myoungwook, Untitled, 2023, Ottchil on fabric, 61 x 64 cm

Huh’s work is itself an accumulation of time and requires long hours of repetitive painting to be completed, making it reminiscent of extreme self-discipline. The ottchil goes through dozens of coats and a long drying process to achieve its full color. In addition, the true color can only be produced when the proper temperature and humidity are maintained. For example, it takes two to three months for a steel plate-based work to be painted with lacquer and baked at the necessary high temperatures to reveal its color. In the case of canvas work, Huh’s process of overlapping and adding layers of cloth, then painting over them again is repeated to the point of becoming tedious. During this process, the fabric is attached and torn off to leave traces, and the artist accumulates traces of himself within the work. Huh starts his day by mixing different colors every morning, painting hues onto long birch boards, and recording the dates and colors. This also forms part of an effort to record and collect even the abstract concept of time. In this way the artist’s life, and time spent performing the repetitive processes that go into his work, even hold the sublime—as is often the result of long practice.

Huh Myoungwook, Untitled, 2023, Mixed media (Ottchil), 141 x 121 cm

Huh Myoungwook’s work, which is characterized by its repetitive actions, the reflection of ceaseless time, and steady recording habits, gives form to time invisible to the eye. In his hands, time gone by becomes a physical sculpture and leaves traces that will naturally wear out, change over time, and eventually vanish. Just as the artist stated that time spent reflecting on natural phenomena such as birth, existence, and extinction is essential in our lives, it is our hope that we can find the time to reflect on the finiteness of life and its meaning, when faced with his work that effectively captures the passage of time.


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