The eternal cycle of nature is a recurrent theme explored in the work of Hei Myung C. Hyun. The artist, born in Korea, earned her degree in Seoul before moving to the states where she has lived for over four decades, earning subsequent degrees from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and an MFA from the University of Hartford, Connecticut. As such, her work also explores a twofold balance of Eastern and Western traditions, in the context of global and, perhaps a little playfully, coastal traditions. On view in the upcoming retrospective exhibition at LA Artcore, the viewer can explore these artistic dichotomies and the subtle shifts in Hyun’s artistic strategies that have evolved over the course of her career.
The organizing principle of the grid, with all its modernist connotations, is an undercurrent to nearly all the works on view. In Cherry Blossom 1001 (2010) and Maehwa V (Plum Blossom V; 1997), the earliest work included in the show, the artist presents two very different means of presenting the landscape viewed through this construct. In Maehwa V, Hyun adopts an eccentric style to depict the tree forms, with raggedy line work that creates an almost frenetic energy. The landscape of plum blossoms is overlaid with a lightly drawn, linear grid. For the more recent Cherry Blossom 1001, she employs non-traditional materials, using coffee stains to form the mottled tree trunks that grow beyond the vertical limitations of the picture plane. Crimson dots, in a variety of hues and sizes, seem almost to float upon the surface. Here, the grid is nearly dissolved into a pair of vertical lines and four patches, three filled with orderly dots and one densely gridded square, almost like a window screen. Although contrasting in both style and mood, in each the grid reinforces the artistic mediation of the viewing experience.
Among the most overt manifestations of the East/West dichotomy are selections from the Hado series (2015). The term “hado” is Japanese and translates to “vibration” or “wave,” but is often used in common vernacular to describe a state of spiritual energy. The subject of this series consists of wintry landscapes, trees, and birds swimming on glassy lakes fractured into misaligned square units. While thematically the images have definitive roots in the spiritually infused landscape traditions of East Asia, the naturalistic realism and fracturing of the scene into a disorganized puzzle grid, clearly ties to the artist’s long-held interest in modernist abstraction. However, the origins of these disparate visual strategies are linked with the common desire to capture a sense of movement in a single image, from the meandering path of wandering monks in Buddhist landscapes to an interest in the space/time continuum explored by the early Cubists. Through this amalgamation of seemingly opposing artistic strategies and subject, Hyun adroitly fuses her interests in Eastern and Western traditions.
Originally published in ArtScene (Sept 2017)