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Mezzotint artist Hwang Kyu-baik’s oil paintings on show in Seoul

Artist Hwang Kyu-baik’s solo exhibition featuring some 20 recent oil paintings opened Tuesday at the Gana Art Center in Pyeongchang-dong, Seoul.

Born in 1932, Hwang has earned international recognition for his mezzotint technique. Combining the 17th century European engraving method with elements of traditional Korean culture, Hwang has developed his own lyrical surrealism. 

“Moon and Swan” (2016) by artist Hwang Kyu-baik (Gana Art Center)
“Moon and Swan” (2016) by artist Hwang Kyu-baik (Gana Art Center)
“An Umbrella” (2018) by artist Hwang Kyu-baik (Gana Art Center)
“An Umbrella” (2018) by artist Hwang Kyu-baik (Gana Art Center)

His works are part of collections of many prestigious museums, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the British Museum and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Korea. In 2015, a retrospective at the MMCA’s Gwacheon branch showcased the artist’s works created over 60 years before 2000.

The Gana Art Center exhibition comprises recent oil paintings done since 2000, when he returned to Korea after some three decades in the US, a period when he focused on printmaking using the mezzotint technique.

“I stopped making works with the mezzotint technique because it requires intense physical labor,“ Hwang said during a press conference at Gana Art Center on Tuesday.

In terms of composition style, however, Hwang has remained more or less the same.

“I believe that my works remain very much the same, though the medium has changed from the mezzotint to oil painting,” Hwang said. ”If I had been limited in depicting things precisely with the mezzotint, I can now depict things in greater detail.”

In the 20 pieces on display, Hwang has juxtaposed landscapes and objects, such as a clock, boots, a hat, a violin and an umbrella. The objects are meant to intrigue the viewers, and serve as props that they can use to imagine the narrative behind the painting, the artist said.

“There is no object or landscape that actually exists. They all came from my imagination. I want to deliver something that is unseen from what is seen. I would appreciate it if viewers can enjoy the imagined world behind what has been presented on canvases,” Hwang said. 

“South and North Summit” (2018) by artist Hwang Kyu-baik (Gana Art Center)
“South and North Summit” (2018) by artist Hwang Kyu-baik (Gana Art Center)

Also on view is “South and North Summit” (2018), in which the artist -- a Korean War veteran -- expressed his hopes for peace.

“I served in the military for four years between 1950 and 1954 after the Korean War broke out. I could not help but burst into tears when I watched the recent summit between the two Korean leaders,” Hwang said.

By Shim Woo-hyun (