Seonna Hong In Transit @ Hashimoto Contemporary NYC
While contemplating how to portray those transitional phases in life, Seonna Hong sought inspiration in the concept of liminal space, that place and time where one straddles the cusp of change. Described as being neither "here nor there", this anxious period of life creates a feeling of expectant excitement for what's to come. "These new paintings have been created in the space of not knowing. The world is turned upside down, so with this new work and with where I’m at in my life, I’m moving through this space, giving in to the not knowing with hopeful anticipation for the next leap forward."
At NYC's Hashimoto Contemporary, the LA-based artist's swirling, serene dreamscape narratives prevail, as figures and creatures cavort throughout the scene. Focusing on the landscape more than its inhabitants, each panorama serves as a vehicle for memory, encouraging the viewer to finish the story. As the artist continues to move away from composing ahead of time, she guides her process with bold and gestural fields of black in bursts of spontaneity.
Jennifer Rizzo: Your work seems to be in a constant state of evolution, from incorporating text and working with darker tones, to illustrating each figure in a minimal style of clothing. There's familiarity, but each new collection incorporates a fresh perspective. Are these conscious, intentional changes, or have they occurred in a more organic, imporvised manner?
Seonna Hong: I'd say they're intentional changes, both the elements that still feel recognizable, as well as the parts that are evolving. I know I'm constantly evolving as a person, that the things I think about, and my place in it change, so that's inevitably reflected in my work. I also like figuring out something new each time I approach a new body of work (to varying degrees of success), but I couldn't get to the places I like if I didn't have to fumble my way through getting there.
There are various recurring elements in your work, all from the natural world. What is the symbolism behind some of these elements, such as the bears, zebras, and the barren trees found throughout your pieces?
The animals represent the id–the instinctual, the holder of hidden memories. It's hard for me to access these in real life but I know they're there, traversing the landscape in my mind. They are observers that, sometimes, show up as harbingers too, and other times, they represent the big abstract ideas and emotions which are too hard to verbalize. The trees in my paintings are bare, simply because I don't like painting leaves.
Your pieces are lovely and balanced, mixing together expressionistic abstraction and figurative representation. Over the years, landscapes seem to have moved more towards minimalism and abstraction. What interests you in breaking down space to a more simplified form?
Thank you! I think the shift has come from the figures moving backward as the subject of the painting and the abstract representation of landscapes moving forward. The landscapes are the parts of my brain that represent memory and dreams–both very foggy, and rewritten all the time, so the interpretation always changes. The figures are there as they react to and provide context to those landscapes.
The upcoming exhibition focuses on the concept of transitional times in life, the sort of ‘in-between’ of things. While a transitional phase can be incredibly stressful, it can also be filled with excitement for the unknown. What message do you hope to convey with the show?
I think exactly that. The unknown can be stressful and scary but also exciting, and it could, possibly, lead to a truer outcome if you let it. I know I have a lot of anxiety wrapped up in not knowing. When I was a kid, I used to read those choose your own adventure books completely backward by reading the desired end first, then working my way backward in the story to figure out how to get there. The story made absolutely no sense and I missed the whole point of choosing the adventure as I went, and even though I got the finale I wanted, it wasn't any fun getting there. I'm trying to change that; to choose things as I go along, even if I don't know where or how it will end.
The palette in the new work has a lot of dark black fields of color. What drew you to this shift in tones?
I started this work using black paint first. I used to save it until the end... small bits that had the most contrast and most impact, painting all the medium tones until finishing off a painting with the lightest lights and the darkest darks. But for some reason, I wanted to start with the highest contrast rather than building up to it. I fought through the intimidation of starting a painting on a pristine new canvas, not by building up the color and palette as I normally do, but by making the boldest mark first and then finding ways to soften it, balance it with natural elements. Maybe it's the state of the world right now. It feels like everything is turned up and I'm confronted with that from the moment I read the news in the morning. Then the rest of the day is mitigated with all of the other parts of life that can beautiful, mundane and everything in between.
Your approach to color is the perfect analogy for the concept of the exhibition. Making bold choices from the start, and confidently venturing into the unknown. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me about your work and the upcoming exhibition. We are so thrilled to work with you again and show your work at our NYC location!
Seonna Hong's Liminal Space opens at Hashimoto Contemporary in New York City on March 7, 2020, with an opening reception from 6 to 8 pm, and is on view through March 28, 2020.