Frame and Focus: Success in the Viewfinder for International BFA Student
By Charly Himmel
When You Hyun Chung came to Brooklyn College in 2010, he sought a new academic experience. He discovered something his home country of Korea had been unable to offer—artistic freedom.
“This is amazing because we talk a lot about art, painting and [things] like that,” said studio mate and fellow expatriate Korean artist Jason River. “If he studied about painting in Korea, he never did that kind of painting because he never knew about painting. He just studied here. That’s how he made it.”
Back home in Seoul, River and Chung were co-workers. After Chung completed his associate’s degree in photography, They made their living as professional photographers shooting film posters, fashion, and product advertisements. River himself was an art major at Brooklyn College in 2008, and convinced Chung to come study in New York City.
“I came earlier and he came late,” River said. “We lived together at the time, but we separated and we just rejoined in our studio in Long Island City.”
Chung’s BFA thesis exhibition, “Abstractions,” which took place in the Boylan Gallery earlier this April, featured a sizeable and cohesive body of geometric abstractions in oil painting.
“In order to unify the series, I use limited vocabulary of squares and rectangles,” Chung explained in his artist statement. “Some of the paintings are compositionally the same, but they are not exactly the same because of the color differences and the color relationships within them.”
Some of Chung’s paintings exhibit a photographic influence in monotone, such as the twelve staggered black and white pieces along the back wall of the gallery.
“I think it’s similar because he always focuses on a kind of shape, like shade and brightness, you know these kinds of shapes,” said Rivers. “And he likes black and white photography. That’s why maybe he chose the grey painting.”
Through this lens, the square in the center of the images emulates a viewfinder on a camera. Lines alternate between sharp and soft focus, like an optical illusion, forcing the eye to reduce secondary and tertiary shapes that do not formally exist.
“I think everything’s related to photography,” Chung explained. “It’s kind of my habit… All of the work has frame in the center, it’s like photography, taking pictures.”
This effect is enhanced to a dizzying degree with Chung’s advanced experimentations in color theory. The human eye activates two strategically adjacent colors into multiple wavering tones. In his artist statement, Chung relates this phenomenon to cultural theory.
“I am fascinated by color theory because I believe that color has a power that is analogous to bias and prejudice,” Chung explained.
During his time studying at Brooklyn College, Chung has dabbled in many different mediums, including printmaking and drawing. Ultimately, he cites academic freedom, and artistic experientialism as his biggest tools for success here.
“I felt freedom to make art in here at Brooklyn College because in Korea many people went to some institute, like a drawing school or painting school before they go to college,” Chung said. “It makes everybody’s work look the same. But I didn’t do that. When you look at my work, it’s [mine].”
“If he was educated as a painter in Korea, he never would have done it. I studied painting and drawing in Korea and our education is pretty different from what the United States teaches,” said River. “It’s a lot similar to what Japanese people teach because of the important education from Japan, technically we have to be perfect, hatching drawings, we are crazy.”
On May 15-19, Chung and River, along with studio mates Yeonjin Kim, and Soongsup Shin, will host an open studio event at their studio space, JYYS located at 4301 21st Street, Suite 216 in Long Island City.
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