Min Hyung, who debuted new work this month at Skew gallery in the solo show ‘The Fifth World: An Introduction’, relates her paintings to the viewer-generated focal points of video-games' simulated multi-surfaces. Nesting within a lengthy artist's statement, the Toronto-based artist compares painting to the computer screen: "The PC experience is cold. The canvas flat surface leads to a door that opens to a Utopian world that is warm and organic. Painting becomes real because experience is real."
Immediately upon entering the gallery, two taller-than-life-size figurative sculptures loom over the viewer and gaze towards the rest of the exhibition, perched like guardians at a Sci-Fi convention. These sculptures are made entirely of inverted puzzle pieces fastened upon mannequin bodies. The masses of puzzle pieces, their glossy coloured sides almost entirely hidden from view, suggests a kind of fur, and if not for a distracting segmentation line mid-figure, this illusion might have overridden the instant digestion of these otherwise classic figure poses.
Whether deliberately or by association, Hyung's sampling of much of the popular and prevalent painting styles of recent Toronto painters - the melted pools of paint from Brendan Flanagan and the sculpted figures of Kim Dorland for example - dominates much of the content of her new work. Riddled and crammed with candied, collaged, and sculpted paint, Hyung's portrait-like depictions of apes and other figures often appear to favour technical skill over invention. The artist has provided short descriptions for each painting, describing creatures with humorous solutions to physical and sexual needs, longings, and base functions, which usually end in bodily de-evolving, shape-shifting, and motivations reminiscent of animated characters that directly reference the liquidity of their own body-mediums.
('Hoark', Min Hyung; image source: www.skewgallery.com)
Hyung matter-of-factly describes the painting "Hoark", a seated monkey in multi-colored rings of paint sporting a rainbow from atop his head, who is defeated by "his massive ego" which "will not allow him to use words that most will understand, so he basically talks to himself". Of the painting "Makki", Hyung states, "everything Makki acquires he must make it a part of his body...permanently attach[ing] his acquisitions right into his flesh for all to see." These are funny and apt descriptions of Hyung's paintings, suggesting that the artist is aware of her own work’s presumptions and limitations.
In 'Banja', another ape figure floats centrally across a mottled background of galaxy blues while a distant squiggle of fleshy strokes beneath him suggest a floating figure in an idyllic grotto. The ape-figure huddles awkwardly on his back upon what appears to be a soggy sandwich-as-hoverboard. Hyung has chosen to reduce her scattered repertoir of painting styles here to carefully sculpted paint within thick and fleshy grounds, her melted pools focused within tiny areas of delicate tones in ginger hair, tiny pockets of skin folds, and the wrinkled pinks of jutting feet.
('Boldingo Beka', Min Hyung; image source: www.skewgallery.com)
In 'Boldingo Beka' and 'Sutak', Hyung allows her talent for sculpting the figurative form to bear full weight without the distractions of wallpapery backgrounds. Not afraid to sully and extend the idea of a figure and face, Hyung has allowed the creatures in these paintings to gaze through the idea of body as well as faciality. Plastic colour peeks out of the cracked and thickened skins of muddy darks. Tuber-like appendages and tongues of melted strips, rather than merely adorning a surface, seem to have their own logic through the act of painting.
('Homan 2', Min Hyung; image source: www.skewgallery.com)
'Homan 2' is a painting approaching a certain logic of painted figure-in-a-landscape. A central ape-figure suggests a cross-legged rule in the midst of multi-time-zone, multi-landscaped space, but without the decorative generality of a screen. Hyung has drawn and rendered vulnerable figures that, in their half-formed procession, defy arbitrariness and appear to be challenging the hierarchy of their central idol.
When Hyung isn’t placing her figures upon deliberately flat and ornamental grounds, she’s extending their otherwise congealed edges into landscapes made up of the skin and body of their making, thereby more successfully proposing her own rules upon overly familiar techniques. Through a more considered use of the role of paint in her personal narratives, it is the worlds within these paintings, rather than Hyung's accompanying text, that will successfully seduce and claim their own stakes.
*Review by Kim Neudorf