Spattered with esoteric images and vibrant colors, a close rapport of Contemporary Art and Shamanism is well knitted with the media of fabric, wax, acrylic and gold leaf in ‘Cruel World’. The particularities from the two asynchronous art realms are well mastered by Hyon Gyon, admixed to set out a humanistic theme. Running from 21 September to 9 November, ‘Cruel World’ is the South Korean artist’s first solo exhibition in Hong Kong. Ben Brown Fine Arts staged her debut with ten elaborate pieces, which intone the humanistic gist with their layered composition, vivid hues and splendid resplendence.

HYON GYON’s Diabolic Flower V and Eleven Minutes (both 2017) at the entrance of Ben Brown Fine Arts.

At the entrance, the exhibition welcomed audiences with open arms of a painting pair: Eleven Minutes and Diabolic Flower V (both 2017). They stretch up to more than two meters in height and build up thicknesses of various materials, namely fabric cloths, candle wax, foam and paints, piling up as a sculptural relief on canvas. Despite that the pair shares a unity in size, media and composition, they are a dichotomy of color with an overt contrast of polychrome and monochrome, such that they suggest different characters and stories. Bearing the same name as Brazilian author – Paulo Coelho’s novel Eleven Minutes, in which a prostitute came into a self-realization during her sex experience, the work can never gloss over its erotic dreams with the thick and waxy layers of white substance on canvas. Whereas, in the polychromatic piece, Gyon employed melted fabric and bright acrylic paints to construct a luxurious surface with layers of details, hinting at the lust for materialism and extravagance.

While the entrance pieces represent different sides of human natures, Gyon has never attempted to impose a didactic doctrine on audiences nor pinned an unsurpassed dogma to her artwork. ‘They are just the reasons I made this artwork, you can also come up with any stories about it,’ She opens to any possibilities in interpretations and this adds on manifold layers of meanings to her artwork just as the ways they were created – layered with layers.

Born in late 70’s in South Korea, Gyon has been wrapped up in painting – the art form that walked her through her higher education studies and won her master’s and doctoral degrees in painting from Kyoto City University of Arts, Japan. Before moving to New York City in the year of 2013, she had immersed herself deeply in the city and culture of Japan for almost a decade. During the course of staying, the traditional elements of Ukiyo-e and Shamanism drew her attention and kindled her interest in painting on abstract, elusive and shamanic imageries.

HYON GYON’s latest piece Up There, Down There (2017) is made of 39 skateboard decks she collected in New York City.

If you entered the exhibition hall, the largest piece of work, Up There, Down There (2017) would immediately catch your eyes with its aureate appearance and splendid grandeur. It is a set of 39 skateboards gilded in strata of gold leaf, bestrewing across a plain wall. Not only does the work express with magnificence in distance, but also maintains a serious gravity in details. Up close the skateboard shows shamanic and grotesque human/demonic figures depicted by relief lines and wrapped with gold leaf, some of which are scrapped off and uncovered the underlying paintings – drawn in a sordid palette – in black, juniper, hickory and magenta.

Splendor and squalor: a dichotomous antithesis is revealed in a contrast of macro and micro views of Up There, Down There. Collusion and corruption in the human world are concealed and wrapped up with layers and layers of gold leaf, so as human nature that pockets oneself’s crudeness and shortcomings with shiny pretence. However, the world is cruel, an elaborate pretence cannot stand the test of time just as the exfoliated gold leaf cannot stand its contemporaneity. The gold leaf will gradually peel off as the exhibition goes on and expose the foul images beneath.

‘Cruel World’ is an excellent blend of Shamanism and Contemporary Art by coalescing the demonic motives and materials’ contemporaneity to highlight the humanistic gist. The curation also helped accentuate the humanistic theme by echoing the artwork on the opposite side. Instead of flanking the similar, adopting an opposite setting of analogous pieces in Ben Browns Fine Arts’ cubical space can invite a comparison at the front and back of the viewers. Standing amidst the cubical gallery, spectators can perceive the layers of comparison are crossing in the middle and you are then trapped in the centre of layers – the layers of imposing pretence and grandiose disguise.