Normally the interview takes place in the studio in Zundert surrounded by the atmosphere created by the artist. Elements that might be irrelevant tell their own stories. Is the studio neat and tidy or chaotic? Which experiments are dismissed? Are the windows covered or not and how do personal things mingle with the place? This time I will never know because the conversation with the Korean artist Hyojun Hyun took place online. For practical reasons, a show in Glasgow made it necessary to move on, so we meet digitally to talk at a distance about memories of the experience of working somewhere else.
I am not European
When Hyun was invited for a residency at AiR Van Gogh Zundert it happened to be his first travel abroad after Corona. It fulfilled the need to get a time away from Berlin, the city where he is now based. However, the Netherlands are not unfamiliar because he studied at Jan van Eyck in Maastricht and did a master in Glasgow. Although, this part of the country is very different and being here in the summer feels almost like going on vacation.
‘In my application I did not mention anything about Vincent because he is not my favourite artist. But when I was in Amsterdam in 2019, I visited the Van Gogh Museum and then I saw his paintings. I was impressed by the colours of his work, but it did not really affect my work. Maybe I am more impressed by his life, his writing and how he documented all sort of details. I really feel sympathy, but I am still wondering how this connects with me.
Of course, I already knew Vincent, everybody knows him. He was represented in the books we used in Korea to learn about art. Finding myself on the birth ground of Vincent I sent a postcard to my mother with a picture his work. She did not know from who it was, but she recognized the painting. That is the kind of famous he is. Funny how people react on Vincent. Also funny, here is the Vincent van Goghhuis but there is no painting of Van Gogh to be seen.’
I wanted to do something different
Normally the way Hyun uses oil paint needs many more weeks to dry than the month that he is staying here. There is also the size of the canvas to consider. If the work is too big, shipping could be a problem. Therefore, he aims to explore nature and do something different and new.
‘When I first arrived here, I enjoyed the place and the surroundings so much I cycled every day. I come from the countryside in Korea, it is in the middle of the land, at the mountainside. The landscape here is so flat and cultivated, it is manmade and rectangular. I was thinking about this after exploring the environment. Thinking what to do here. Also, the sunlight is different than it is in Berlin. The colours are more deeply. I watched the sunset every day, which you can see here longer because the Netherlands are flat.
I painted the horizon, but I turned it from horizontal to vertical. I wanted to make them more interesting. I do not live here, so I can change the landscapes and horizons that I found. In Korea landscape is part of what you learn to draw or paint. Abstraction is something for later, you learn that at art school. When I worked in Korea, it was always outside, but since I have a studio, I do not go outside anymore. Weird, I just realize this. I once went outside in the field to make crazy abstract paintings, not something I dare to show. So, I work in my studio. But maybe in the future, I work outside again. I work with oil paint; it is not practical to do that outside. And now I only have a Dutch bike, how should I take all my things with me?’
I am not a conceptual artist
Construction sites have a specific attraction on Hyun. He collects from it objects like concrete and wood and brings this to his studio. Sometimes it even becomes an artwork as a part of an installation. Otherwise, it is just there, like for instance the pieces of graffiti that are so thick that is almost an object, but also very fragile because it is after all only a lot of layers of paint.
‘I have an interest in urban landscape that started in Berlin. Here it continued, collecting bricks and parts of concrete from a building site – the site just across the street. I like the sort of organic form that is made by man, which is also not organic. It is just there until I pick it up. Here my approach became more lightly. Instead of canvas I used paper, the forms of the concrete were the forms that I painted. Sort of abstract or readymade. I also found a thing of metal that looks like a spider. I did not know what this was, so I went to a hardware store. Because of the Dutch language I did not succeed, so I asked the organization and learned that is put onto a chimney to prevent the birds of getting into this. For me it is a strange object in which I put plastic, as a sort of intervention. It is a bit like accumulation of what interest me. I also made a sculpture folded, a sort of origami. It is an abstracted Dutch cow. I was not sure this was interesting, and wondered if I should go on with this? But speaking with Ron*, he told me that in a way abstraction started with a Dutch Cow depicted by Bart van der Leck, I started to make more.’
In my studio I become a painter
Everyday Hyun made a painting in his studio. He tried to draw outside but it is too windy and not easy to work. Maybe one day if he has an assistant to help him with transport and carry the gear, just like David Hockney. But for now, he just went outside to connect with the traces of landscape from Vincent’s Childhood like the Landgoed De Moeren. Although the landscape is changed, it sent inspiration.
‘In my studio I become a painter, that is where I work. I am interested in the outside but from the inside. It becomes my own language. The paintings are instigated by the photos I make outside. I bring these to my studio. The photo’s I make with my iPhone are the starting point of the painting, but it is also my memory of what I saw and experienced outside. Coincidence is also very important otherwise it gets boring. It just happens, you don’t know what it is, but you will discover it.
My residency was a single project, the sort of work that I made here does not need to continue. Changing environment is part of my work. Why should I, when I am elsewhere, work at a Dutch landscape in my studio? It could happen, but probably not, but maybe my body remembers it and it comes back. It is something to develop. After the residency I was already busy with other things, so I did not really have time to reflect. I also did not want to be here and spent my time only on working because I also need time to think. My thoughts are about how to follow my own way. Vincent is important for me, as a symbol connected to this place but not for my residency. It’s about the sunset here and the surroundings. For me this is special, but for the people here it is everyday life.’
* Ron Dirven is the director of Het Vincent van GoghHuis Zundert.