A conversation with the 86-year-old Korean painter, for whom memories of dictatorship and war remain potent sources of inspiration
‘My life has been quite an unusual journey,’ says painter Hwang Yong-Yop.
Born in Pyongyang in 1931, Hwang spent his early years in North Korea, where he ‘was taught the Communist ideology of Kim Il-sung,’ Hwang says.
‘While I was attending Pyoung-yang Art Institute, the Korean War broke out,’ the artist explains. Hwang escaped with his family to South Korea, ‘following the United Nations troops.’ There Hwang worked part time in the U.S. army and attended school; in 1957, he graduated from Hong Ik University in Seoul.
Many of Hwang Yong-Yop's expressive, semi-abstract paintings deal with his memories of growing up in a dictatorial regime. ‘I couldn’t help but create paintings out of the experience,’ says Hwang. ‘My experience of war, and the struggle between life and death, inspired me to explore near-death moments in my art.’
Unlike other Korean artists who aligned themselves with a range of art movements, Hwang's production bears little resemblance to the work of Korean Informel or Dansaekhwa artists. Instead, his work focuses squarely on humans, and the struggle against the forces of oppression.
‘Sometimes people ask me what I would like to be if I could be reborn,’ the artist says. ‘I say I would be a painter --not just because I like to paint, but because I feel obligated to do this for society.
‘I have been painting for 70 years,’ Hwang says; ‘I will keep on painting as long as my body allows.’
Works by Hwang will be offered on 26 November in the Asian 20th Century Art Day Sale at Christie's in Hong Kong.