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Hong Kyoungtack's 'Pen' Series: A Vibrant Explosion of Color and Emotion

Hong Kyoungtack’s large paintings from the Pen series feature colorful pencils and pens bursting forth like fireworks in all directions. The series showcases the smooth surfaces of densely packed pens and pencils, creating a sense of overwhelming pressure for the viewer.

Hong Kyoungtack, ‘Pens 3,’ 2001-2010, Oil on linen, 259 x 776 cm.

Colorful pencils and pens explode in all directions as if they were firecrackers. Hong Kyoungtack’s Pen series depicts magnified and vividly portrayed pencils and pens enlarged on a large canvas. When you look at it, it gives you a different overwhelming feeling, like seeing a huge flower made up of writing instruments in full bloom. While large-scale artworks have become more common recently, such pieces were undoubtedly striking during their initial unveiling in the 2000s.

The tightly clustered pens in Hong’s paintings are depicted with extreme realism. However, the absence of shadows between the objects gives it a strong sense of unreality. The surfaces of the objects seem to exude a smooth plastic texture when touched, yet they also evoke a matte sensation. Due to these characteristics, his paintings give the impression of both a painting and a design image.

Hong Kyoungtack is often categorized as a pop artist in Korea. Pop art emerged in the 1960s as a counterpoint to abstract expressionism, portraying popular images with conceptual ideas and social criticism. However, while Hong approached figurative still-life subjects in his own way, different from the abstract painting and installations that prevailed during his university days, it does not seem fitting to say that his works contain social criticism.

Hong Kyoungtack, ‘Pens-Anonymous,’ 2021, Oil on linen, 181 x 227 cm.

The artist delicately portrays pencils and pens with intricate brush strokes, capturing their colors and textures with uniform density and intensity. In the Pen series, each stationery item with different colors is depicted in a highly realistic manner. However, their unity also gives them an abstract feeling, and the image of the pencils and pens clustered together in a tightly packed group oscillates between the figurative and the abstract.

The artist himself labels his Pen works as expressionistic, viewing them as manifestations of his suppressed desires, sentiments, and thoughts. While he draws upon familiar materials such as pencils and pens, he expresses the complex, interwoven elements of his inner self through color and form.

The pencils and pens, poised sharply as if ready to take flight, exude an aggressive and compulsive aura. The artist even likens these stationery items to bullets, which is why the paintings can sometimes feel intimidating. Their tightly packed and compulsive arrangement might seem stifling, yet they also resemble an impending explosion, suggesting both a sense of overwhelming pressure and anticipation of release just before detonation.

Hong Kyoungtack, ‘Pens,’ 2010, Oil on linen, 259 x 388 cm.

Everyday objects such as pens take on diverse shapes and forms due to the work of unknown designers. Skulls, dolls, animals, and character shapes—all have emerged through the hands of someone, yet the achievements of those individuals remain obscure and anonymous. These pens appear meticulously realistic, clean, smooth, and almost editorially precise, yet there is very little space between them. This is reminiscent of the struggle of various contemporary individuals striving for different goals within a city, much like a crowd of anonymous participants.

The Pen series is a series of works that Hong began in 1994, a year before he graduated from university in 1995. The series saw its first public showcase in 2000 when he participated in an exhibition at Insa Art Space, one of the most significant alternative spaces in Korea in the 2000s. At the time, his Pen series garnered attention from viewers and received critical acclaim, including a review by Kim Young-na, who was the President of the Korean Association of Modern and Contemporary Art History and later became the 11th Director of the National Museum of Korea.

However, it was not until the works were sold overseas that they really drew attention in the Korean art world. When the Pen series was initially introduced, the Korean art market and collectors were not ready to embrace this new form of art. At that time, traditional subjects were still the primary focus of art purchases in Korea. 

Hong Kyoungtack, ‘Full of Love,’ 2012, Oil on linen, 130 x 162 cm.

However, this atmosphere began to change when Hong’s work appeared in Christie’s Hong Kong. In 2007, one painting from Hong’s Pen series was first auctioned at Christie’s Hong Kong and achieved a record-breaking price of 777.6 million KRW. Then, in May 2013, the same series fetched a winning bid of 960 million KRW at another Christie’s Hong Kong auction, setting the highest record for a Korean contemporary artwork in Christie’s auction history. Since then, Hong Kyoungtack has become a frequently discussed artist in the Korean art market.

The explosive and sharp energy conveyed by Hong Kyoungtack’s Pen series piqued the interest and curiosity of a vast audience. His works are now part of the collections of major Korean art institutions such as the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, the Ilmin Museum of Art, and the Daelim Museum. Additionally, they are held by numerous collectors both in Korea and abroad.

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