Imagine walking into an art museum gallery where you are surrounded by portraits. What comes to your mind?
In my case, and I'm guessing in most cases, I try picturing the story of the people portrayed. Who were they? Why were they painted? In some special cases –when a painting really captivates me– I start imagining the moment when they were painted, as well as what was going through the artist's and the exchange between the subject and the painter. In the successful Netflix series, The Crown, there’s a very memorable moment when artist Graham Sutherland is commissioned to make the official portrait of Winston Churchill as an eightieth birthday present from the House of Lords and Commons. This exchange between the artist shows a part of Churchill’s life that wasn’t very known, his artistic side. So the sessions go from being uncomfortable to a bit painful to watch, and then to having some familiarity. Those are the stories I envision in my mind. Like what might have happened when Leonardo painted his famous Gioconda, or even the atmosphere when Velázquez was creating his iconic Las Meninas. However, there’s something that never crossed my mind until I watched the paintings we’re about to discuss: what’s inside the mind of the model? What was their life like?
Kyung Sunghyun, a Korean artist based in Seoul, creates impressive paintings that resemble overexposed photographs. But what lies beyond what might appear as a stylistic signature? These blurry paintings, where the subject's features are doubled or even overlapped represent humanity itself. In other words, they portray the multiple essences we all have. They represent all the layers of an individual, both in terms of the mind their emotions.
These layers are meant to fully represent ourselves. So, instead of looking at the portrait of a person, you’re looking at what’s hidden inside them, both their demons and anxieties. These very detailed paintings can be interpreted as faithful representations of the turmoil we all experience. In the same way the images are superimposed, leaving one framework at the front, we conceal all those anxieties and emotions we don’t want people to perceive, even if they are present all the time.
Moreover, they also show the physical process behind our sense of sight and perception of images. In that way, when we look at something, we don’t really perceive it as one-dimensional, but as a set of ideas and symbols from which our brain creates a whole picture. These paintings try to show us that process by dividing all the elements as we would unconsciously perceive them. For that matter, when Sunghyun presents his work at an exhibition, he asks the visitors to look at them at a certain distance, so they can get the full image. Then he lets them approach it to see each single detail.
For Sunghyun, art is the only possible media to represent in an immediate way a subject at its fullest. This means capturing all the underlying meanings and parts, those we can see at a first sight and those the individual (and, every single human being) tries so hard to conceal behind a determined image and personality. The shakiness or blur that characterizes his art, also shows the imperfect aspect of our species: the beautiful and complex nature of both our unconscious and logical part of our stream of consciousness. Sunghyun’s art shows how abnormal and complex human beings can be and how that wonderful peculiarity makes us unique.
Our minds are mysterious realms that hold the truth of humanity. Take a look at how art has tried to unveil and interpret the meaning that lies in the depths of the unconscious through dreams. Many artistic movements and artists have found inspiration in the uncertainty that the mind represents. If, like them, you're also interested in understanding or at least try to understand what your thoughts represent, check how psychedelia represented that quest.