(Yonhap Interview) Kang Kang-hoon’s portrait saga: life seen through his daughter, cotton

Giant portraits capture a girl looking back at the observer, exuding an ambiance of curiosity, ambiguity or even sorrow. These hyperrealistic paintings, featured at Art Busan, one of South Korea's largest art fairs, evoke various emotions in different viewers, exactly as painter Kang Kang-hoon intended. "The audience will perceive and feel whatever they do through their own past experiences," the artist told Yonhap News Agency during an interview at the BEXCO exhibition center in Busan, located 320 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on Friday. The artist endeavored to delve into the inner thoughts and emotions of his subject, tracing the emotional trajectory illustrated in the portraits. "Before engaging in a conversation with someone, it's impossible to judge them based solely on their appearance," he said. "Similarly, I find it unacceptable to portray a person superficially, even if I render them in meticulous detail, resembling a photograph." Kang is one of the main artists showcased in the Connect secti on, a special curation program of the annual art fair. Three of the paintings on display were unveiled to the public for the first time, largely due to their enormous size. When his daughter was born, he started to primarily paint her, believing that the child was a living being that "mirrors" himself. "Continuing to draw her portrait is like depicting my own life history as this archive ages," he said, adding that the work will be a testament to his living his life faithfully. Born in 1979, the artist has always been drawn to painting portraits. With few artists in the field from whom he could learn the skills, he almost taught himself. Since his mother's death in 2020, he experienced a change of heart. "I was devastated. It was really hard to overcome the loss," the artist said. One day, the image of cotton came to his mind, almost out of nowhere. As he couldn't shake off the image, he eventually decided to paint cotton to explore its origin. "It was a big breakthrough in terms of technique and materi al, considering that I had primarily painted portraits," he said. "I still don't quite understand why the image came to me, but it feels incredibly important and almost fateful." At his Connect booth, he showcased some of his key paintings created over the last few years, including portraits combined with paintings of cotton branches. "The white cotton bolls resembled me, while the shriveled and twisted remnants, such as the calyx and stems, brought to mind the presence of my hardworking parents," he said. "I am thrilled to showcase my paintings outside of my studio. Some of them have been hanging on the walls of my studio for four years," he said, expressing his excitement about participating in the special curation program. "However people feel, I hope they view the exhibition through their own experiences, but regardless, I hope they leave feeling somewhat refreshed." Source: Yonhap News Agency