A painting of a women wearing a black and yellow Hanbok with traditional women’s winter hat, jobawi, is leaning on a small mirror trying to draw the perfect eyebrow. Deep in concentration with an eyebrow pencil in one hand, stretching the side of her face with the other, the image resembles a contemporary woman struggling to put on make-up. Another painting, New Year’s Resolution (featuring starting tomorrow) shows a woman with hanbok sitting in front of an open refrigerator, taking a huge bite out of a cold pizza. In such ways, artist Kim Hyun-jung, an idol in the world of Korean painting, uses Korean painting techniques to depict the lifestyles of modern women.
Kim started painting at the age of eight in a professional atelier and was known for her deep concentration while painting. Entering Sunwha Arts school, one of the most prominent arts schools in Korea, and receiving a doctorate in Oriental Painting in Seoul National University, was quite a smooth journey for her. Currently, she has collaborated with more than 20 companies including Vogue Korea and Kakao Talk. She was also nominated as one of the women pioneers at Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia, 2017.
“The shock of encountering Korean painting for the first time in high school led me to major in Oriental Painting,” Kim said. “Originally, I was interested in design but I immediately fell in love with ink-and-wash painting. One of the attractions of oriental painting is the tranquility of the soft and clear ink that spreads over hanji, a traditional Korean paper handmade from mulberry trees.”
Kim’s work gained huge popularity, especially among women, due to the foreign series where she captured the realistic lifestyle of the younger generation. The key to her popularity is the quirky stylization of active contemporary women’s lives in the traditional Hanbok, which is often seen as a code of female elegance and conservative virtue. By reflecting women’s insecurities of their physical appearance, economic and percieved public status, which are all strengthened by social media in the modern era, Kim satirizes people full of vanity and the biased society. She derives inspiration from her daily life and through SNS, a perfect place to catch up on social trends. “
SNS is a vital source of inspiration for me as I aim to portray honest and genuine behaviors of people living in this era. I try to spread messages of how so-called ‘perfect’ photos can be full of bluffs,” Kim stated. “By sharing my artwork online, I am able to help people free themselves from the eyes of society.”
Kim chose her favorite piece as the first piece of Feign series, Narcissism where a woman is carefully drawing her eyebrows. Kim explained that in her earlier days, drawing people with double standards and satirizing them was her main focus. However, she soon discovered herself acting the exact same way. After then, it was not just about mocking hypocrites, but more of reflecting on herself and expressing her honest side.
She also told the reason why the character’s hanbok skirt is see-through, clearly revealing the woman’s legs. “I wanted to demonstrate one’s true nature showing through the outer layer, symbolized by clothes so that the audiences are can experience both sides through art,” Kim said.
Kim further explained the process of producing art that takes a long time, as some of her projects took more than six months to complete.
“I especially put a lot of effort in drawing smooth and natural hair which requires hard training,” Kim said.“For the hanbok skirt, making hanji collages expresses the crunching texture of hanbok the best. As I mostly dye hanji paper myself, I am able to create various patterns and colors; but it does definitely make the process longer.”
She hopes women will no longer be judged by distorted social perspectives and be able to reveal their true selves. Although stereotypes toward women and discrimination between gender is still prominent today, Kim strongly encouraged women not to be constrained by social stereotypes and try focusing on themselves.
“I would like to emphasize on finding something that you genuinely enjoy and are passionate about,” Kim advised. “But I do not recommend just chasing a vague, big dream. Instead, you should have short-term plans, such as for the next five years or even a week. Most importantly, you should be able to free yourself from being afraid of the judgemental eyes of others.”