Yuhee Choi

Kwanhoon Gallery, Seoul

Hideholic, a term coined by the artist Yuhee Choi, first appeared in the titles of the paintings shown in her debut solo exhibition at Gana Art Space in Seoul in 2008. The word alludes to the Korean artist’s programmatic and obsessive preoccupation with what separates the conscious from the unconscious, as she works toward accessing and visualizing the complexities of personal desires and traumas, at the same time hiding from the viewer any direct reference to the concrete events of her life. Choi’s ambitious attempts to stage pictorial psychodramas that are devoid of continuous narrative, yet whose organic and figurative elements are filled with emotional overtones, result in paintings that look decorative and playful. In these seductive works one might detect a personal predilection for harmony and finish, but after making their initial impact, the meticulously rendered forms and vivid colors of the works look haunted, revealing a darker side of the artist’s psyche.

Compared with the artist’s earlier acrylics on canvas, which often centered on a single motif—a mandala, a floral arrangement, or the interior of a room, for instance—her recent large-scale paintings have ascended, both formally and emotionally, to a new level of complexity. Hideholic-you, 2010, features a gigantic head, viewed in profile, hovering upside down against an indigo background rhythmically dotted with small circles containing spots of yellow. The head is adorned with a large flower- or treelike shape whose stem becomes an elegant, vascular arabesque that crosses the face’s cheek like a ritual scarification or tattoo, creating a surface of exquisite sensitivity. The head seems ethereal, and the background of dotted circles—which creates an effect similar to that of traditional paper lanterns, omnipresent in Korea, inscribed with prayers and messages to loved ones—further flattens any distinction between the celestial and the earthly.

Like many contemporary artists, Choi plays with various art references, contemporary and past, which makes her works look familiar
without turning them into pastiches. Hideholic Landscape, 2009, might bring to mind images iconic in both Asia and the West, such as Hokusai’s woodcut Great Wave at Kanagawa, 1831. Choi’s image, however, lacks the print’s holistic grace. Instead, she transforms the wave into a slightly grotesque play of hide-and-seek, a sinusoid nest for myriad small parasitic forms, at once cute and repulsive, recognizable and distorted. The foreground could belong to a fantastic shadow theater, while the background resembles wallpaper. In Hideholic, 2010, a crystalline, screenlike landscape recalls a set for a sci-fi movie, or a scene from a video game; it belongs to an enchanted virtual world populated with fantastic fauna and flora that seems to gracefully fold and unfold before our eyes. A portrayal of some kind of hyperreal Garden of Delight, a cyberspace offering the intensity of visual experience without providing direct accessibility to it, the work reminds us of the inability of consciousness to fully distinguish reality from fantasy. The ornamental quality of the image and the artist’s continued attention to detail and technique greatly contribute to the painting’s attractiveness, allowing the viewer to perceive the work first as an expression of rich imagination and of Choi’s commitment to her craft, and then as an image pregnant with psychological significance.

Marek Bartelik