The two most outstanding visual elements in Kang Hyung-Koo's portraits are the grand scale of his work, and the hyperrealism of the details. Kang has obsessively magnified the scale of the faces in his paintings because overblown faces allow him to emphasise by exaggeration facial expressions frozen in time. Kang's magnified faces reveal the myriad traces of hidden emotions rather than just the outer appearance of the face. Through magnification, Kang aims to remove viewers from the commonplace human face and lead them to experience an unusual and chilling surprise, eventually evoking empathy.
Kang Hyung-Koo's portraits immediately remind the viewer of Chuck Close, who has been painting human faces on large canvases using hyper-realistic techniques since the 1960s (Fig. 1). Both Kang and Close's paintings are more realistic than photographs. However, while Close's goal is "to transfer photographic information into painted information," Kang's work emphasises colour rather than the simple transfer of photographic information. As shown in Andy Warhol Test II (Lot 63) featured here, Kang's painstaking draftsmanship is enhanced by his emblematic use of colour and the eloquent control of a monotone palette. In the painting composed of four panels, the two images of Warhol's face are split in half. Kang uses strong colours on the surfaces of his canvases so as to highlight colours before shapes and images. In Andy Warhol Test II there is the deliberately uncomfortable juxtaposition of fuchsia, pink, blue and yellow over the face. The effect is far from real - and close to surreal. It is as if Kang wants to expose the actual existence of Andrew Warhola Jr who was hidden behind the pseudonym and persona of Andy Warhol.
Kang also tends to emphasise the eyes and exaggerate facial wrinkles, distorting the real person's facial image. It is through such distortions that Kang crosses beyond the realm of representation and gives a different meaning to the portrait genre. As Andy Warhol Test II shows, Kang's portraits are based on an enigmatic illusion balanced somewhere between Surrealism and Hyperrealism. Kang believes that surrealism and hyperrealism both deliver the same sensation by providing a persuasive but erroneous illusion of reality. Andy Warhol Test II is acutely conscious of its paradoxical tendency towards both representation and illusion. Kang creates a strikingly persuasive illustration of portraits of significant figures in art history (Fig. 2). Exploiting the illusory promises that hyperrealistic paintings make, Kang reincarnates Andy Warhol within the grand scale of his canvas, making his presence known and giving a sense of his existence. The combination of a well-painted portrait, the astute grasp of the power of colours and even, perhaps, his understanding and suave toying with the elements of hyperrealism, have all helped to strengthen Kang's maturity and success as an artist. Viewers find themselves locked in the mystical spell of Kang's theatrical painting. The meticulous record of withered skin stems has a magnetism composed of awe and repugnance. The eyes are deep pools, the expression of a profoundly introverted soul. As Kang teases with elements of hyperrealism while declaring his paintings to be real, the audience must spend time unravelling the images before them.