Art Feature: Beyond the Veil

Art Feature: Beyond the Veil

Art by Cho-hyun Kim
Feature by Rob Carroll

South Korean artist Cho-hyun Kim is inspired by the gothic: medieval patterns, ornamental frames, death, alchemy, literature, the afterlife. Her surrealist black and white pen drawings remind me of greats like Edward Gorey and Chris Riddell, but with greater detail and a bit more attention paid to the gothic underpinnings of mysticism, theology, and psychoanalysis. She tells me that she loves to find beauty in what most people think is strange or peculiar. Death is not to be feared.

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“The acceptance of death—that there is always an end to life—is an achievement,” she says. “I hope people see that in my artwork.”

With titles like Memento Mori and The Last Judgment, the theme of death takes center stage, but Cho-hyun’s work isn’t so much about the finality of death as it is the possibilities of what comes after. Frames become windows into a world hidden from our daily perceptions, while Latin phrases and esoteric symbols clue the viewer in to the nature of these ancient realms and provide road maps for how to get there. A coastal manor haunts the borderland, but is it a refuge or a trap? Consult the key to find out.

Cho-hyun’s land of the dead is populated by saints and sinners, judges and jailers, mages and magistrates, kings and court fools, but all are equal in the way they’ve been stripped of the flesh. Angels provide the animated skeletons with a glimpse into the deceased’s own soul.

There’s an architectural quality to Cho-hyun’s art, a precision often reserved for blueprints. She’s not playing with symbols so much as she’s utilizing them to construct scaffolding, erect pillars, rebuild Babel, and break through the firmament.

“My grandfather worked as an engineer, and he drew mechanical drawings for his job. These drawings were a great motivation for me as a child, and I soon began drawing at a young age. I would draw while watching him draft designs for his mechanical inventions.”

Unlike her grandfather, Cho-hyun’s inventions are beyond the mechanics of the material world, which can at times feel stifling—parameters limit possibilities, after all.

“Drawing is something I do to escape from this boring reality,” she says. “When I draw, I forget everything. It’s just me and the art.”

Intentionally or not, Cho-hyun’s response channels a bit of abstract and expressionist painter Paul Klee, who once said, “Mastery requires us to unlearn much of our previous understanding.” Klee felt artists needed to break free from conventional modes of thinking in order to create something truly original and unique.

Klee’s sentiment is debatable, but Cho-hyun’s talent is not. By forgetting, she understands.


Art copyright © 2023 Cho-hyun Kim

The Artist

Cho-hyun Kim

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