Art fairs have always played a crucial role in the world of contemporary art. Not only do they allow art lovers to see the creations of new and upcoming artists, but they also enable collectors, agents, and curators to obtain unique modern art pieces.
StART Art Fair was founded in 2014 by David and Serenella Ciclitira, a pair of dedicated art collectors who have been giving a great deal of support to ground-breaking artists from around the world. Taking place at the Saatchi Gallery in London, the fair gathered over 150 global artists, including many Korean talents, such as Regina Kim, Kang Hui, Kian84, Mignon, Ohnim, Minjoo Yoon, Sunwoo Kim, Choulgyu Lee, Byungjong Kim, Doowon Lee, Hyeyoun Kim, SURREA, Taeho, Nancy Lang, and Yunguk Jo. While each and every artist represented a different kind of media, they all shined with their individual artistic vision, portraying a distinctive understanding of the world through their art.
One of the main artists that opened this year’s StART Art Fair was Ohnim, also known as Mino of WINNER, a K-pop group that was formed in 2013 by YG Entertainment. On October 12th, and to the cheers of those gathered in the gallery, Ohnim was awarded with the Global Eye Award for Visual Arts & Culture 2021.
“I use the harmony of shapes and colours to express the emotions one is not able to express through words”, Ohnim said when asked about his style of painting.
The artist showcased his twelve paintings, including Giraffe in My Eyes (Acrylic on canvas, 145.5 x 112.1 cm), This is a Fat Giraffe in my Eyes (162.2 x 260.6 cm, Acrylic on canvas), and Stocked.
As eleven of his paintings featured a giraffe as the main subject, I asked Ohnim what was the meaning behind the theme, and this is what he had to say: “[Some time ago] I looked at the meaning of ‘giraffe’ in one of the dictionaries. Giraffes are unique animals with the longest neck [amongst all of the other animals]. Because they have long necks, they are able to see far and beyond. [And I think] that’s how I look at the world myself; I see it almost in the same way”.
“Also, I have received so much love from my fans, my paintings are for them as well. When you look closely at the giraffes, some of their patches are actual hearts, this is my way of giving the love back to my fans”, added Ohnim.
Ohnim’s professionalism and attention to detail while creating such high-quality fine art is impressive. It is no surprise that he continuously receives praise and outstanding reviews by collectors and art lovers alike. But what’s more important to Ohnim, the subject of the painting or the way it is executed?
“That’s a hard question”, Ohnim said with a chuckle. “A couple of years ago, I would draw what I felt in my heart at that time. And now, when I am drawing, I want to express my feelings and my views on this life. Things that I can’t express in words, I want to express in my paintings. The subject of the painting is as important as the execution [of my art]”, he explained.
“Do you detach yourself from your art when you finish painting?”, I asked.
“After I finished all this work [pointing at the paintings in the Saatchi Gallery], I felt very alone. It felt like my kids got married and left the house. It is hard sometimes to detach yourself from the art you make, but it is what it is”, admits Ohnim.
When viewing Ohnim’s work, I am viewing an emotion, a response, a feeling. His brushstrokes and translucent colours encourage a physical response within us, a desire to express ourselves.
Kang Hui, on the other hand, is a different type of artist. Known for his acting roles in Korean dramas, such as Cherry Blossoms After Winter, My Beautiful Launderette, Ending Again, and Dream Change Laundromat, Kang Hui was influenced by his mother to partake in art from an early age: “The reason I first started painting is because, since I was young, my mother was a painter and my family ran a gallery, so I grew up in an environment where it was natural for me to paint. I’ve always been drawing and painting. I just got an opportunity to exhibit my work because the Saatchi Gallery invited me”, Kang Hui admitted candidly.
Kang Hui presented seven of his pieces, including my personal favourite, Debut, containing four paintings that depict one characteristic face called Smile Boy. “These are the pieces that I liked when I was young”, said Kang, then he added: “I used Smile Boy, my signature character, to do parodies. Smile Boy could be myself, and it’s a character that reflects a lot of me, so in a way, it reflects childhood dreams and the kind of person I want to become”.
Kang also uses a distinctive pattern. Through the use of brushstrokes, Kang is able to achieve a style and appearance that is often found in Asian art.
“I started doing this after getting inspiration from Korean traditional art. I wanted to express Asian/Oriental brushstrokes using western paint. I was making a lot of work using lines, so I ended up creating a character that has a face composed of lines. I used the character for various types of work in order to expand this particular world”, Kang told me while describing Debut to me.
The artist’s work consists of bright and earthy colours, his art is truly beautiful. And as Kang said, his work is all about pursuing happiness: “I work with the theme of happy people and happy lives, so I use bright colours a lot. Bright colours convey a sense of happiness.”
Regina Kim came next. I have always been a huge fan of her art. Seeing her work at the NASTY WOMAN EXHIBITION: Empowerment back in 2018 made me realise that Regina would create more extraordinary work in the future.
Regina got into art when she was studying law, business, and fashion in Korea. Although she can draw and paint beautifully, she opts to express herself through visual arts. She focuses on diverse social and daily themes such as human rights, race, nature, human life, and a wide variety of emotions. The artist showcased five big pieces under the theme Around Us.
“I made those pieces to suggest [that] we should take time to think deeply about the things happening around us. The Myanmar piece, for example, was made for the people of Myanmar, which I also donated to them”, Regina told me when asked about her art.
“The For Ukraine piece was made because it broke my heart to see the people of Ukraine suffering from the war. And that artwork is lenticular; the Ukrainian flag shows Putin’s greed in trying to take over land that doesn’t belong to him”, Regina added.
“How did you come up with the idea?”, I asked.
“I don’t know, really. Putin’s face is being cut out of the Ukrainian flag. I felt it would be more effective in conveying the story if it moved, so I made it lenticular, and the scissors bear the phrase ‘NO WAR’. If it gets sold, I will donate the money to Ukraine”, she said.
The third piece, Desert Flower, represented peace, while Pray for You and Overdressed are described by Regina as being more complex since they tackle the subjects of child and animal abuse.
When producing projects like the one presented at the Saatchi Gallery, Regina told me that she doesn’t design her work from the beginning. She decides on a theme and spreads her idea out from her chosen subject like a mind map. The artist doesn’t like to have a specific design process as she enjoys having a level of spontaneity in her work.
One also wonders, what are the qualities that define an artist?
“The artists of the past were concerned with how to be expressive, while modern artists are focused on the intent and ideas. They look for the right medium to express their opinions in order to get the attention of the public. I believe that a true artist is someone who is concerned with social issues in the world and has a voice, a unique style, to express and convey their own message to the public through their chosen medium”, Regina passionately admitted.
Over four days, many artists were able to showcase their art to private collectors and the public. And with hundreds of striking artworks under one roof, David and Serenella Ciclitira showed that supporting young talent is vital for the future of art within our society.
Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler
Video © Courtesy of START ART KOREA