HORI Artspace’s Invitational Exhibition
<Yoon Byung-rock: Archive>
3 May - 18 June, 2022
(Closed on Sundays, Mondays, Holidays)
“I want to be remembered as a painter who delivered joy, and globally-recognized apple-motif painter. There are apples with symbolic meanings throughout history, for example, the fruit of Adam and Eve, the Apple of Discord in Greek mythology that ignited the Trojan War, what fell upon Isaac Newton for him to discover gravity, and those of Paul Cézanne. Cézanne was not bound by the rules of classical perspective, and his own multi-faceted view had a huge influence on the cubist painters. I also dream of being reminisced to have created these apple paintings with my own view and formative language when they are addressed as “Yoon Byung Rock’s Apples”.
No matter what, the “Apple painting = Yoon Byung Rock” formula is already a pronoun. It seems that the artist’s dream has been realized to some extent. At least in Korea, when terms like “apple painting” or “apple artist” are typed in a search engine box, the first related keyword that pops up is the name Yoon Byung Rock. It is never easy to create your own brand in any industry or profession, or not to mention obtaining it by some sort of a windfall. Such result can only come from both visible and invisible endeavors through years of perseverance. Just as the late Kim Tschang Yeul (1929-2021) who captured the entire universe’s providence with a simple subject matter of “water droplets”, Yoon is also creating “apple” of his own packed with countless stories.
The artist defines apple as "a word found in the dictionary of nature." Through the medium, he talks of the beautiful image of vitality that is relatable to anyone. Just as the words of an art critic Seo Seong Rok who commented, “Through seeing Yoon Byung Rock’s paintings, we finally came to realize how amazing that common fruit is, and what splendid world we’re living in,” Yoon’s apples seem to possess an irresistible spell. It isn’t that he had only painted fruit even from early on in his career; only in 2002 fruit began to appear in his works on plate-shaped canvases, and the apple paintings took its full swing from near the end of 2003. Before then, Yoon had been immersed in the traditional aesthetics somewhat different from his current fascination. The expression technique has always been in the hyper-realistic manner, but the artist’s attention was on the old and faded folk objects, around the time of his college graduation. From the dusty but age-worthy objects, Yoon had discovered the unique trace of life. He may have found the intimate communication channel with his mother’s generation through such maturing instruments.
"To me, apple is the youthful fruit of my hometown, bringing me back the joy of my childhood. Viewers come with each of their own cherished memories, but my hope is that the fruit may summon the feeling of happiness from them all. An apple that comes to fruition through sunlight, rain and wind bring the joy of harvest and symbolize opulence. The universe’s entire energy is condensed in single fruit, and through sensing it we become grateful for nature that enables the human existence. May these sun-drenched apples that I painted convey positivity and joy.”
Perhaps for Yoon Byung Rock who is although now known as the "apple painter," the subject matter of fruit may hold no significant difference from that of his olden folk objects. While the latter were about memories of his mother in the warmth of daily life, many kinds of fruit including apple are from Yoon’s most cherished memories of the past. When queried “What does an apple mean to you?”, his unhesitant answer was, “Hometown”. Could there be any other word that can imply so many stories as this? Then, why does Yoon call his apple his hometown?
Yeongcheon of North Gyeongsang province is famous in Korea for the fields of apple plantation, and that town happened to be where the artist grew up through school years. So, it was quite the fated fruit from the beginning. With his father running a grape orchard and his mother selling fruit in vendor to provide for their young son’s education, the meaning of the fruit for Yoon can be well assumed. As such, the history of an artist is crucial to understand his or her works. The strong vitality in Yoon’s paintings of apples, peaches and watermelons must be due to the sincerity of life those fruit contain.
Another charm that must be mentioned about Yoon Byung Rock’s paintings is the perspective and originality of the paintings’ composition; Most of their viewpoint is seeing from the top down (俯瞰視點), contradicting the common still-life composition method. The usual rule of thumb for still-life painting is creating a sense of space by arranging objects in layers from front to back, with bigger and heavier ones placed in front to achieve stability. However, it is the opposite in Yoon’s works, for he placed big and heavy ones on top with separate instruments independently dispersed. What started out as a young art student’s bravado in pursuing newness, 20 years later it has developed into an original style that combines both Eastern and Western painting techniques.
The "modified canvas" that breaks away from the standard frame is his another essential characteristic. Building these is not an easy work at all; cutting out plywood according to the outline and digging out grooves take at least two full days. Yoon has even set up a woodwork studio for the process of sketching out the desired shape and carving it out with a Jigsaw, then adhering two panels of birch plywood together to prevent the distortion with time. Then, Yoon covers its top with the traditional Korean Hanji (Dakpaper) in untearable thickness as if working with canvas cloth. it has been painted with medium several times to prevent oil paint from running or permeating too much, the basis is completed. Then, sketches and the base color are applied once again, and the painting begins. The weight and texture of oil paint mingled with its soft clearness seeped into Hanji completes “The unique freshness of Yoon Byung Rock’s apple”. His exclusive pure colors and ingenious canvas construction are achieved through investing intensive labor to each artwork.
Moreover, depending on the unfettered direction of each painting, they all exude completely different ambience of space. When a few apples are put near a crate as if they had rolled out of the box, they evoke another incredible vividness. Upon how and where the individual apples are placed, the space is infinitely expanded, and the two-dimensional painting enters the realm of three-dimensional installation. This is the secret to Yoon Byung Rock’s space design of his apple painting, how standing in front of his single piece turns the entire space surrounding the viewer into an artwork. Whether it be home or office, the infinite organic space is created with just a painting of apples. One subject matter that delivers vitality, tension and unfamiliarity all at once – such exploration and study on space is the artist’s main interest. Then, let's take a brief look at his works before the emergence of his apple series.
Young Yoon Byung Rock conceived a dream of becoming an artist when he was a 2nd grader in elementary school, and eventually went to an art college. He recalls having had an obsessive thought that an artist should be “a little different from others”. This naturally developed into attempting what others hadn’t, and Yoon incessantly experimented to come up with a creative work during his college days. In particular, Yoon feels lucky to have been given the task of supervising the art school’s darkroom upon returning to school after serving in the military. It gave him opportunities to try photography, silk screen printing, and many other various types of work.
“Receiving the Special Award from Grand Art Exhibition of Korea during my college years aroused a thought in me about spending the rest of my life as an artist, then a call from the late Kim Heung Sou(1919-2014), founder of the so-called harmonism painting and the head judge at the time, instilled a faith in myself and passion for my work, leading me to solidify the thought. After graduation, I debuted through my solo exhibition as Gogeum Art Research Association’s selected artist, without which the Yoon Byung Rock now would not exist.”
Upon facing graduation, his 100 ho canvas work <Reclaiming Memory III >(1993, Oil on canvas, 130×162cm) received Special Award from Grand Art Exhibition of Korea. The head of the judging panel, artist Kim Heung Sou had made a personal phone call to Yoon and commented, “The color and composition are exceptional, and your work was a candidate for Grand prize. You have great potentials of becoming an excellent artist,” which gave a huge impact of encouragement.
After graduating from college and debuting as a professional artist, the concern has always been “how to survive as a successful artist”. When his work was displayed in a group exhibition, he wished that his paintings were the most impressionable to the viewers, to the degree of losing sleep from the hauling memory of seeing Yoon’s painting even after they return home from gallery. Such will was realized even from his first solo exhibition fresh out of college. At that time, the main character of the paintings weren’t apples, and they were in realistic manner, somewhat decorative or symbolic.
For example, a very meaningful work was submitted to Bongsung Gallery of Daegu for his solo exhibition in commemoration of winning Gogeum Art Research Association Award in 1995; a 25 ho canvas work titled <Reclaiming Memory IV >(1994, Oil on wood, 67x72cm). It displayed an extraordinary image of as if a sturdy male figure is standing facing front, with wide shoulders and arms with clenched fists, and long straight legs with knees together. Built by connecting wooden pieces to form suggestive human figure, this artwork can be regarded as the starting point of what now is “Yoon Byung Rock-Style Modified Canvas”. From this on, Yoon’s determination to create canvases deviated from the “standardized rectangular shape” takes full swing. Destroying the edges of canvas or adding protrusion to it, Yoon revised canvases according to his liking.
The works created between 1997 and 2000 had the characteristic of small canvas works combined into one chunk of work, as if small puzzle pieces put together; one completed work was hardly of just a single canvas. For example, the main thematic character was placed in the center canvas and assisting images in small canvases on its either side maximized the delivery power of his message. What is noteworthy here is that each involved canvas could stand as a completed and independent work, adding solidity to the artwork as a whole.
The first painting that had removed the background is <Finding the Treasure Chest - Richness> (2001, Oil on canvas, 50×145.5cm), which is of an abacus. It was an experiment from the thought that since the shape of an abacus is rectangular, why not try omitting the background by just matching the subject matter to the canvas’ proportions? Upon completion, he became convinced that “paintings can be created without backgrounds.” A piece that followed was <Autumn’s Fragrance> (2003, Oil on korean paper, 75.5×157.5cm), the painting of an antique chest facing front with a plate on top, and a long tree branch crossing the two. Around this period, the plate series containing small objects emerged, and they shared the same title except for chronological numbers. The aforementioned piece gained huge popularity after it was hung as a backdrop at the press conference hall to mark the first anniversary of the late president Roh Moo Hyun’s inauguration.
Following the plate series, it was around 2004 that Yoon began to compose his paintings only with apple crates, in which apples were just a subject matter. Since he cared more about “how to expand the space of painting” through modified canvases, the subject matter was not of great importance. In the early paintings of the apple series, they at times appear cut in half or a bite eaten. And a towel that some farmer must have used to wipe off sweat is thrown in, which works as a breather for the whole image. During this period, Yoon focused more on creating an "open formativeness" with a sense of space that an apple crate brought than describing the apples themselves, which worked as a factor that coordinated the overall balance and tension. The 2007’s work <Autumn’s Fragrance> (Oil on korean paper, 82.3×50.5 cm) is a representative example. As such, the motif of apple has become an efficient medium to clearly highlight the message that the artist tries to convey through his work.
For example, the apple paintings around the year 2010 reflect the social and environmental issues that came to surface during that period. For Yoon, his chosen fruit couldn’t be irrelevant from the increasing environmental pollution, since the constant transfer of the apple plantation due to rise of temperature meant that one day apples may not be produced in his home country. To tangibly alert the viewers, Yoon painted polar bears and pigs that had been introduced by National Geographic magazine as endangered animals, with apples on top. These types of work have been produced since 2006, showing how the artist sensitively responds to contemporary social issues. Yoon has steadily expressed his own formative beliefs with the subject of apples, and for future projects, he dreams of collaborating building structures with a new apple series, or a gigantic and unique installation in space using computer graphics.
Yoon Byung Rock’s daily routine is utterly simple; He spends no less than 10 hours a day working in his studio – which means that except for sleeping hours, the artist’s whole day is spent on painting, for he is quite swamped with fully-booked agenda. As his nickname of “All-sold-out” explains, Yoon’s artworks are highly advocated by international and domestic art fairs, special exhibitions, art auctions and galleries. There is already a great number of those who are experiencing the joy of harvesting happiness through Yoon Byung Rock’s apple. And we shall expectantly await Yoon’s new message that he will bring in the next season.
* Hosted by Nari Kim (CEO of HORI Art Space)
* Directed by Yoon-sub Kim (CEO of AIf Art Management)
* Sponsored by ONE MEDICS INDUSTRY