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Hong Kyoungtack’s 'Funkchestra' Series: Harmony of Colors, Shapes, and Icons

The title of Hong Kyoungtack’s (b.1968) series, Funkchestra, is a combination of the words “funk” and “orchestra.” In this series of works, various elements such as religion, pop culture, consumer culture, music, and art are in harmony with each other as a reflection of contemporaneity.

Artist Hong Kyoungtack. Courtesy of the artist and K-ARTIST.COM

In the 2000s, the international art world began to recognize artists from various countries, such as Brazil, India, Russia, and diverse regions of Africa. Particularly the rapid expansion of the Chinese art market since the 1990s has been a game-changer for the East Asian art market.

During this period, the Korean art scene was aggressively introducing Korean artists to overseas art markets in an effort to expand its reach. 

The artist Hong Kyoungtack (b. 1968) began his career in the 2000s amidst the globalization of the international art scene, the explosive growth of the international art market, and the development of the Korean contemporary art scene.

Hong actively participated in international art auctions and art fairs and gained significant attention in the Korean art world in 2007 when his work Pencil 1 became the highest-priced work by a Korean artist at a Christie’s auction in Hong Kong.

Hong Kyoungtack first made a name for himself with his Pen series in the international art market, but he has since expanded and developed his artistic world through various series such as Funkchestra and Library. His paintings depict specific objects such as pens, books, and people, but the overall composition of the work is abstract, much like the history, culture, and concepts that have shaped our world up to this point. 

The Pen series fills the canvas with pens and pencils with a smooth plastic surface, expressing the repressed human desires in a consumption-oriented society, while in the Library series, the stacked books and the scene of a study implicitly represent “the site where human history has been gathered” over a long period of time.

Artist Hong Hong Kyoungtack. Courtesy of the aritst.

Among his many works, Funkchestra harmonizes various elements such as religion, pop culture, consumer culture, music, and art to reflect the artist’s view of contemporary society.

Funkchestra is a combination of the words ‘funk’ and ‘orchestra.’ The term ‘funk’ here is used as a concept to include any music that makes you feel groovy,” the artist explains.

Funk music is an African-American style of popular dance music that emerged in the late 1960s. Funk musicians wear colorful and loud clothing and create repetitive, strong rhythms. The orchestra, on the other hand, is a large instrumental ensemble that performs classical symphonic music. Hong’s use of the word “funkchestra” refers to the popular nature of funk music rather than the music itself, while “orchestra” refers to the traditional, classical nature of classical music.

The artist explains that he began working on the Funkchestra series in 2001, but it was not until 2005 that he officially presented it to the public and the art world. After participating in a residency program at the Gana Atelier in 2004, Hong was given the opportunity to present the series in a solo exhibition at the ARKO Art Center in 2005.

Through this series, Hong expresses his reflections on human life, where religion and reality, life and death, and presence and absence coexist. In other words, the series harmonizes the artist’s personal interests and tastes with contemporary social and cultural elements through color and form.

Hong Kyoungtack, 'Fuck and Roll,' 2008-2009, Acrylic, oil on linen, 71.2 x 89.3 in (181 x 227 cm). Courtesy of the artist.

The first thing you’ll notice about this brilliantly colored series is the hyper-realistic figure in the foreground of the canvas. The painting is somewhat reminiscent of Western religious paintings of holy figures. The central figure is depicted with very realistic details in rather muted colors, and the figures in this almost saintly composition are icons of today’s cultural and artistic world, including pop culture.

The artist selects “people whose names will live on for generations” and incorporates them into the work. From Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Andy Warhol to The Beatles, Madonna, and BTS, these are some of the most enduring figures in modern history. In this series, the artist depicts the object of idolization that has changed in modern times, just as saints were the object of idolization in the past.

Today’s cultural icons, representative of an era, are adorned with halos. However, these halos diverge from the mysterious and awe-inspiring halos seen in religious paintings. Instead, they function as bold visual elements, similar to the blinding stage lights associated with popular music.

The background of the piece is more abstract and pop than the hyper-realistic figure at the center. It is stylized with design patterns reminiscent of vibrant, intricate stained glass found in cathedrals. The colorful and dense patterns in the background were initially individually painted in oil, but the artist later switched to acrylic paint and index stickers to create the patterns. These techniques and materials allowed the artist to create a background with a clearer, more vibrant color scheme, which created a contrast with the central, ultra-realistic, somewhat muted figure.

Hong Kyoungtack, 'BTS,' 2019, Acrylic, oil on linen, 200 x 200 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

Another distinctive feature of the Funkchestra series is the bold lettering in the four corners or the center of the canvas. The gothic, bold, and emphasized letters and shapes are reminiscent of the ornate lettering found in Western bibles while also resembling modern posters and billboards. The words in the four corners of the paintings or the lyrics positioned in the center typically reflect contemporary social conditions. 

To Hong, as an artist who enjoys music, the popular music of the 2000s has an addictive, repetitive rhythm. The brilliant colors and varied patterns of the Funkchestra series represent this characteristic rhythm of contemporary popular music. 

The artist explains that his intention with this series was to portray a raw and vivid picture of our times, from religion to pornography. The artist explores various attributes of life, such as art and pop culture, taboo and classic, life and death, religion and secularism, by crossing contemporary and classical, color, black, and white aesthetics, abstract patterns and realism, the interplay between performance and interiority, the concepts of closure and eruption, high culture and pop culture, painting and design techniques, as well as religion and pornography.

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