top of page

2019  Seoung wonsun

(Art critic)



                                     A lonely viewing From Her Empty Room


In the exhibition of Yoo Hyesook entitled From Her Empty Room, the paintings are shining in black. Black paintings, those black paintings, which are black, like darkness with no visibility at all, absorbing the viewer suddenly into the space of loneliness, are drawn with graphite. The black paintings composed with the countless lines of graphite look like a black material rather than a painting, because of the materiality of the graphite itself. Moreover, depending on the position of the viewer and light, an illusion of shapes or stains is created or even a mysterious presence of light filtering in from somewhere. Even if it is an illusion, the black paintings certainly do create gradually shapes and colors according to the time and the position of viewer; the light coming into this black space silhouettes the walls, and exposes the window frames and doors. Sometimes it feels like we saw an apparition of someone in these black paintings, who disappeared from this corner of the wall to go behind another side of the wall. Sometimes it feels like the sun is slowly rising up. Of course, we end up realizing it is an optical illusion of our eyes, but eyes keep moving, following the shadow of the light and the illusion rising from the black painting. When the time for feeling the chilly air of the black space is up, we sink into a feeling of loneliness as if we are to be left alone.


When we do a creative work, we don’t stop digging into the depth of a mental image. Quite strangely, the artistic pieces dealing with human creative activity are sometimes born from a demiurgic image at the undifferentiated and deepest level. Regarding the demiurgic image, an artist experiences and releases the gloomy side of self-destruction and frenzy side simultaneously, indistinctively. Often, we can witness some paintings with a strange contrast of greatly positive/cosmic euphoria expressed through image of a severe ordeal or death.


The artist Yoo Hyesook, known as artist of ‘hair’, has various methods of drawing with fine lines of pencil. While her past works described the subject realistically with the tactile expression of the surface of hair, hair tuft, sweater and fabric, more recent works have changed into even more realistic description of the microscopic texture of the subject; the black got to cover the entire canvas and the inclination for dark and intense painting has prevailed. But the artist confessed that, in order to create blacker paintings, the intensity of labor for creation has also been higher. The hyperrealism painting, considered as labor intensive activity, usually applies a variety of techniques to draw the subject strictly as it looks, while the works of Yoo Hyesook describe the surface texture of the subject as if it is magnified, using pencil (graphite) as the only material. If I imagine the process of her works, it would be nearly an act of filling up the white canvas with the black graphite and must have been so monotonous and laborious that she might have been absorbed sometimes in the infinite evanescence of time.


Even after that period, the artist intended to create paintings with even more density, therefore she drew the starlight of night sky and black color of the river, changing into a painting that radiates a strong materiality through realistic depiction of furry clothes or hair. At the undifferentiated, deepest level between expression and representation, imagination and reality, the artist created a weird contrast between the infinite space like water and sky and the elements covering human body such as sweater, furry clothes and hair. She incarnates both what can be described realistically and what expresses the infinite time and space, all through one material and one technique. In this exhibition, she says that she painted not space, but light.


In her latest works, distinct things disappeared and anonymous space takes place. But the artist herself is saying she is painting light. It is not about painting the shape of light, but enabling the visual experiences to see the light. Yoo Hyesook, as almost every artist does, starts from loneliness then to immerse herself into the subject. The painting completed with the lonely immersion eventually becomes the entire sum of discourses gazing the world.


Watching the black paintings of the artist Yoo Hyesook, I was looking at an existence that hovers on a border, walks away from the limited experience, and starts a journey in search of the unknown, however could not help but have the impression that my mental eyes are neither open nor closed.


The difficulty in distinguishing the real in front of my eyes open from the simulacre, is because I am used to the transcendental signifiants of what are seen in front of my eyes. But it is also because in her works looking like a simulation process, the demiurgic image revealed through the black color of the graphite has more intense attraction than the basic sensation such as visual or tactile.


The illusion created by her black paintings reveals the space gradually, as if I am groping around the black room looking for the light. The three-dimensional and realistic sensation of space makes the flat surface of the canvas into a virtual cube, and the synesthesia surrounding me gets holistic. Before I know, I get to imagine the story unfolding in the black space and recall some psychological, contrasting images such as loneliness, fear, horror, bliss, hope and relief.

Especially, her works, beyond the visual representation of subjects, are characterizing the mediateness perceived commonly about the external presence as ‘haphē’ (tactile sense). When Aristoteles mentioned the ‘koinē aisthēsis’ (common sense), he pointed this kind of tactile sense as the medium of integrated senses. This has been a discussion on pure senses of human, being shifted to ‘sensus communis’(common sense) in the meaning of perceiving and judging as others in the community, which proves that the efforts to integrate the boundaries between vision and cognition have been developed since long.


What is the space in the black paintings? Those spaces are adopted from parts of Edward Hopper’s paintings, spaces that exist as a space in the painting but hardly ever seen. Yoo Hyesook met Hopper’s paintings, deleted the protagonists from the space, and then reconstructed only the spaces she wanted to see: her own black spaces. People disappeared, and only the cold, lonesome space of ‘darkness’ has been left, with no clue for any imagination. Those are tactile spaces. She let the viewers to sit in the space of black paintings. There stands alone the viewer, following the light, the source of the senses, which penetrates the eyes in the desolate silence and wakes up the entire self. This is a mysterious contrast, which leads the viewer to experience to grope the light in the darkness, to get differentiated from the pitch-black darkness as frightening as death instinct, and to pursue the mental image that pierces one’s own inner self and gets flexibly absorbed in the flexible vibration of self.


But nowadays, here came an era that everything is technically copied, the hyperréel overwhelms réel, and five senses are not enough to make a judgment. The ‘common sense’ inherent in this era is that the fake is accepted as more true than the true, in addition, the fake replaces the true. This is a story about senses, but also a story about the present world. What Yoo Hyesook wants to paint is not a basic question about ‘vision’ as a description of subjects and the external presence, but it is rather efforts of an artist, to present a sensory imagery about self and the world that human can show through art, namely the aesthetics of ‘Visuality’ of eyes.


The works that passed through her visuality are experienced differently according to era, culture, area, race, individual conditions, or even weather or mood. Seeing is a natural phenomenon, but when we reach the stage of interpreting and expressing it, the subject fallen on the retina has to pass through not only other physiological process of senses but also social, cultural or psychological phase. Quoting the text of Norman Bryson who defines visuality as the ‘entire sum of discourses which make up visuality, that cultural construct’, The way of drawing (creation): seeing (analysis) paintings, the ‘entire sum of discourses which make up the construct that we want to see’, can exist and be felt in a different form of senses depending on artist: viewer, and also on historical, cultural, psychological phase and routine conditions.


Art is neither a description nor a statement. The implication of individual subject seen in an artistic work is to draw his/her own interest from the artist. And the viewer’s interpretation is to read the entire sum of the discourses of art, and to revert it to senses.


"When I look, what I see is not simply light but intelligible form: the rays of light are caught in a network of meanings. For human beings collectively to orchestrate their visual experience together it is required that each submit his or her retinal experience to the socially agreed description(s) of an intelligible world. Between the subject and the world is inserted the entire sum of discourses which make up visuality, that cultural construct, and makes visuality different from vision, the notion of unmediated visual experience"

-Norman Bryson


Therefore, the discourses of black paintings of Yoo Hyesook don’t remain as a mere vision, but get settled in visuality. They are about the light that she tried to paint, as well as the spaces that contain the light.


bottom of page