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Why paint flowers in 2019?

The still-life painting genre may not hold much appeal for contemporary artists, since it does not leave much room for new discoveries. Flower paintings might be seen as especially outmoded.

But in an art scene dominated by conceptual art, local painter Kim Sung-yoon’s focus on flowers is as bold as it is refreshing.

“Assorted Flowers in the White Porcelain Jar with a Blue Dragon” (2019) by Kim Sung-yoon (Gallery Hyundai)
“Assorted Flowers in the White Porcelain Jar with a Blue Dragon” (2019) by Kim Sung-yoon (Gallery Hyundai)

“Many expressed worries when I said I wanted to paint flowers, but I think flower paintings are still a good means to communicate with the viewers,” Kim said during a press conference held last Tuesday.

Kim’s solo exhibition at Gallery Hyundai, titled “Arrangement,” featured some 50 flower paintings divided into three series.

The artist said “looking awry” was the prevailing mode in contemporary art, and he wanted to step away from the mainstream.

“There is a tendency in the contemporary art scene where people don’t take flowers as they are. However, the more I see them, the more I could only think of a flower as a flower, a beautiful flower. I wanted to paint the beauty of flowers,” Kim said.

Kim added that he had decided to work on still-life paintings because he is often emotionally drawn to things that are no longer part of the mainstream.

“I think I am interested in bringing back things that have been pushed aside,” said Kim.

In 2013, Kim held another exhibition at Gallery Hyundai titled “Athlete,” featuring paintings of individuals in costumes from early Olympic Games. These works, he said, also came from that sense of wanting to revive a lost art form.

Kim said he had grown fond of flowers as he encountered them often in his daily life.

“It has been about five years since I got married. Both of us like flowers, so I often buy flowers on my way back home,” Kim said.

Paintings of flowers he bought for his wife fill up the second-floor gallery space.

“I carefully selected flowers to make a nice combination of colors. But, at some point, my wife started to use things like food jars to put the flowers in. I did not like it much in the beginning, but I began to think that it well represented part of my own life.” 

Kim Sung Yoon's
Kim Sung Yoon's "Tulips Petruzzelli Jar" (Gallery Hyundai)

For his flower paintings, Kim has adopted the techniques of still-life masters and added his own touch.

For the painting series on the second floor, Kim used different colors for the frame mats, matching them to the flowers. It was one of the ways that impressionist and neo-impressionist painter Camille Pissarro decorated his frames, the artist explained.

Yet Kim parts ways with Pissarro by painting the brand labels from the food jars that his wife uses as flower vases -- Divella, Reine Duon and Bonne Maman, among others -- at the bottom center of his frame mats. “They add kitschiness to the paintings,” Kim said.

For the large flower paintings on the first floor, Kim built on a method employed by Jan Brueghel the Elder, a 17th-century Dutch painter and the son of Pieter Bruegel.

In the manner of Brueghel, who collected images of diverse flowers from different seasons and later painted them together, Kim Googled flowers to create arrangements that are not possible in real life.

The black-and-white still-life flower paintings in the basement space are an homage to his beloved painter, Edouard Manet.

The 16 paintings are Kim’s own rendition of the 16 paintings featured in a publication titled “The Last Flowers of Manet,” the artist explained.

Kim said he does not work with a concept or discourse because he feels like he is missing something.

“I think I should do things I can do,” Kim said.

By Shim Woo-hyun (