[Art Review] All you need is hair

Hair is both treasured and disgusted. Saving a few strands of hair is a lifetime task to those fighting with hair loss. Hair left on the floor of hair salons is swept up right away as no customers would find it pleasant to walk over them.

Hair cuttings that were about to be dumped as trash have become valuable means for paintings to a 65-year-old Korean artist Hwang Jai-hyoung. He received hair donations from hair salons located in the old coal mine town of Taebaek to use them to portray local miners and their families.

‘Exposed Face’ (2017), hair on canvas, 162.2×130.3cm. Photo by Wooyoung Lee ⓒ Hwang Jai-hyoung


Exhibition view of the Hwang Jai-hyoung solo show at Gana Art Center. Photo by Wooyoung Lee

The hair paintings are a tribute to hardships and sufferings of miners and also references to Hwang’s past portrayal of them. Hwang, who moved to Taebaek in the 1970s, worked at coal mines to observe and experience lives of miners there and depict them in his paintings.

A middle-aged miner whose face covered in ashes reappears in the hair painting lively thanks to the curves and depths created by different lengths and colors of hair. It is fascinating to see at close range how each strand of hair is placed on a flat canvas to create a face full of life. On the other hand, It takes a few steps away from the work to realize the artist’s delicate craftsmanship and the skill to create works that almost resemble pencil sketches.

When loosely placed, hair creates ghostly images. This creates the effects of a faded family portrait of a miner, his wife, and their two young children, standing in front of their small house. A scene of a mother and a child awaiting a train on an old platform gives off the feeling of sadness and the passing of time.

‘Hair Clippers’ (2016), hair on canvas, 162.2×112.1cm. Photo by Wooyoung Lee ⓒ Hwang Jai-hyoung

Hair is not the only thing that steals the show here. The exhibition leaves a room for viewers to explore Hwang’s meticulous drawing skills using other methods. Hwang proves to be a genius in the realistic expression of landscape images using graphite pencils and oil paints. Viewers are left amazed at how ordinary materials like graphite pencils can create mesmerizing effects in the drawings of the peaceful quiet ripples of water in Lake Baikal and a night scene of an island of Olkhon.


크기변환_15 가나아트, 황재형, 眞如(진여), 2017년 9월, 캔버스에 흑연, 162.1x227.3cm
‘眞如(진여)’ (2017), graphite on canvas, 162.1×227.3cm. Gana Art/ⓒ Hwang Jai-hyoung


The exhibition runs until Jan. 28, 2018 at Gana Art Center in Pyeongchang 30-gil 28, Jongno-gu, Seoul.

Tickets are 3,000 won for adults. For more information, http://www.ganaart.com.

By Wooyoung Lee

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