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Painting: Oil, Charcoal on Canvas.
Painting, and Painting Over: Closing In
On the alternation of repetition and reversion in An Gyo Beom’s portrait paintings
Yi Hyun(Art Criticism)
Francis Bacon asked himself how he differed from dead animal meat at a butcher shop. He used to say that more cruel is the scene of a live meat that drools with saliva over the sight of another meat hanging at a butcher shop. No matter how grotesque the scene of meat as portrayed in his paintings, Francis Bacon claimed that they are not nearly as brutal as human life in reality and the horror we experience in them. In the likewise manner, An Gyo Beom’s portrait paintings evoke in its viewers the strong feeling of confusion and the sense of ferocity that borders insanity. The material aspect of An’s paintings — fiercely pasted lumps of paint over the surface of canvas that easily exceeds the height of an average male — amplifies the impact of the content. Stylistic detail is where An’s painting differentiates itself from the great Francis Bacon: whereas Bacon’s meat can be compared to the meat of prime quality that was chopped and handled by a skilled butcher, An’s meat resembles scraps of meat left over from the butchering process. Leftover is often synonymous with low-grade. But the things we throw away can often tell us clues that can provide us with insights on what we as a community are eager to deny or forget, knowingly or unknowingly.
An employs various media for his work. They often come in two kinds: Pen and pencil are dedicated to contouring and detailed portrayal; Oil and acrylic paints are used to express chaotic and abstract qualities. If the former emulates and builds human figures, the latter dissects and deconstructs such figures. If we were to compare the former to a bone structure, the latter can be likened to flesh and bowels. That is, of course, metaphorically speaking and not in an anatomical sense. Let’s dig in further into the artist’s day-to-day method. An constructs human figures with the most delicate of his media: pen or pencil; subsequently, he paints over completely the so-formed figures; or sometimes instead of complete cover-up, he deliberately leaves hints of the original figure by unveiling traces of human form in a subtle manner, say, a hint of an eye here and a nuance of lips there. As a consequence, a viewer can recognize not much else than the pure materiality elicited by the crumbled mass of wildly mixed paints. It is not to say, however, that An’s methods, apparently tilted towards abstract style, merely aims at totally concealing the figurative sketches with paints. The same goal could have been easily achieved by just starting out with paints in the first place. The artist appears to be purposefully attacking the preliminary sketches: he pokes, scratches, and glides over his figurative sketches, as if out of temperamental outbursts, with palpable intent. Hence, it may be reasonable to assume that although the pencil sketches are destined to be hidden eventually beneath the paint layer, they do seem to have a distinct purpose of existence. It seems safe to presume that An intends the traces of his procedure to be visible. This whole process resembles an act of a person in a constant and desperate struggle to forget something. Again, the artist would have just skipped the sketch part, if his purpose was the total elimination of it.
If this is the case, what is the artist so desperately trying to put behind him, beyond the horizon of oblivion, perse? The subjects of An’s paintings range from models and manga characters to painting classics, and even God. They tend to vary but have one thing in common: they’re all socially accepted generic images. One thing to note in specific is that An portrayed professional models and rarely, if ever, painted off of his friends or family. What is the socially accepted role of the models? A person who is a model is scarcely regarded past his or her occupational description. Models serve the role of promoting or enhancing the value of the main products and thus consumed as human “samples”. Manga characters and iconic images of God are not much different from models. They are quite the universal and unidiosyncratic signs that effectively appeal to the masses across many cultures and regions. An collects images on the internet and recreates them rather honestly on his canvas, as though he consents to their given meanings and roles. In the course of his painting, however, he inadvertently shifts attitude. As if suddenly grown disgusted at his own conformist images, he adds to them the abnormal shapes such as horns, dogs, or even dragons. He obsessively paints over the initial image until he completely turns it around. In the Baconian sense, by the act of altering the reality An forbids his work to end up yet another one of those portrait paintings and imprints a violent subjective mark in his work. He appears to be doing so for the purpose of creating a false that is truer than the truth.
The role asked of individuals by a State or a society resembles that of a model. Individuals are called upon as a mere component, regardless of their individual context, then consumed. All member are required to act accordingly to the cause of their community. The pressure to act as an ethical, compliant member of the society is almost inescapable. To be specific, the standardized social role that is cast upon a middle-aged man in the Korean society does not allow an artist any latitude necessary for his artistic practice. If you comply and carry out the role of a model as expected, you end up a model. If you don’t, you are labeled a questionable character, and the social retribution follows. In this circumstance, An chooses to consciously deny the dilemma. He does so by way of repetitively painting (about repression), and painting (about his impulse). In the face of the unavoidable situation, the artist oscillates: he chooses to comply one moment, then retracts his compliance in another. By doing so, he can defer his impulse to flee. The notion of oblivion logically requires the preceding act of memorizing. An is on a crusade to his personal calling, ceaselessly balancing himself between where he stands and where he’d like to be.
Artist featured by Saatchi Art in a collection