Korean Artist Project with Korean Art Museum
Log in  |  Register  |  Korean    Contact us

Home > Artists > View

Seunghwan Ryu

Seunghwan Ryu, OCI Museum of Art


1961, Seoul, South Korea


Painting, Installation



Life Tree (detail), 2016

Mixed media, Variable size

Facebook Twitter Google Plus Email
Prev Zoom Next

Art that Questions the Duration

  Toward the Art Inhabitable in the Duration_

  While researching artists for developing the theme of the exhibition, suddenly the artist note of Seunghwan Ryu caught my eyes. In the note he wrote

 “… daily life and information, understanding and discovery of the life as recording and the contents of the three entries of time, space and humans are appeared as changes and trends in my work. Entries of time, space, humans appear to changes and trends. My work represents obtained images (that both visible and invisible) from where I stay and the continuity of time the obtainment process proceeds. Figure is the living archive of creation by my hands and organically relating with various surrounding condition and prepares for a firm platform for a new world.”

  Seunghwan Ryu’s work is flexible but also tenacious enough as felt nervous. Since 1991, he has recorded the images coming to mind through everyday ordinary experience such as reading book or reflection of life, on the letter sized papers as writing a diary. Motif of his drawings are variety as including ancient cultures, microorganisms, language, mathematics and geometry, propagation, and the theory of relativity. And with the slow but continuous process of drawing a few centimeters of each day has been filling about 500-meter-long paper. His artist notes and the drawings is a crucial role to decide the subject of the exhibition as ‘duration’.

  However, it does not mean that other five artists not related to the theme. But, definitely, Ryu’s drawings are corresponding to the work of Roman Opalka that constantly records the process of writing down numbers and reading aloud it every day. More than Opalka’s work merely recording numbers, Ryu’s work has flow of narration and the root are in contact with death. As you can see in his work a reflection about life and death is the way to meet consideration on duration.

Taeman Choi


Epos: a peristalsis of time and text

   Time is ever-flowing, and it demonstrates the mutability of all objects and beings in the universe. Since the beginning of civilization, humankind has developed the habit of recording the flow of time, using various symbols and languages. In this sense, the text, whether in the form of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics or the Greek alphabet, is a manmade instrument, but at the same time it serves a greater purpose as a vessel of time itself. Nevertheless, the fundamental character of the text is not the same as that which is found in nature. The timeline formed in nature is an embodiment of every moment and every second, represented without guile or prejudice. The text, on the other hand, only seems as though it is representative of every single event, when in truth it is derived from the biased perspective of an individual. In short, while nature is a completely objective chronicler of its daily comings and goings, the text is the projection of a series of subjective observations made by man. Nevertheless, history, a genre of text, is written under the ‘who, what, when, where, why, and how’ rule (Five W’s and One H rule) to maximize objectivity and minimize subjectivity. However, in contrast to the epos, history is an imperfect narrator of time. The epos is able to reflect even the unseen constituents of a certain context or situation, allowing it to elaborate its contents with much more ease compared to history; history is often an incomplete puzzle, with several pieces missing in the picture, whereas the epos is a song of time, with every note accounted for. Held within the changes of human society are the lives of individual people, which in turn are ruled by fate. Thus, the epos, which records such constant and often tumultuous changes in time, may be the greatest gift and the greatest curse that mankind has been endowed with.
  Ryu’s works can be characterized as ‘epic’ in many different ways. Yet, his uniqueness is not represented by the content of his works, but in his method of creating them. Since 1990, Ryu has taken refuge in his small studio in Samsungdong, recording every bit of information, knowledge, and experience he has encountered. Within the studio is a table, at which Ryu’s works are birthed. This table is occupied by books of philosophy, history, and antique scriptures. It is an altar of knowledge, one which can be likened to that used by an ascetic monk; a microcosm constituted by comprehension and experience. At this table Ryu has been traveling to the world of wisdom, utilizing the elements of time, space, and humankind as coordinates to guide him to it. His thoughts and vast amounts of information, attained from numerous books and experiences he has come across over the years, are reborn as the cartography of his epos, and he realizes the map upon a roll of paper.

   The epos that Ryu creates is strictly in the form of drawings. Therefore, the various graphic effects seen in other types of art are excluded. His only tools in configuring his works are pens with 3mm tips, most of them being standard black in color. This system allows his drawing process to take on the form of a more basic and somewhat clerical procedure, making Ryu’s work more like that of a historiographer than an artist. Also, his usage of the roll of paper is another feature that presents an oddity that separates his drawings from those of others, and at the same time maximizes their epic facets. Before the moment of creation, Ryu prepares a 30cm-long roll of paper, cut from a much larger sheet. This is a feat – he confesses – that requires half of his day. In the modern world, where the unit of documents and other literary works has been conformed to the page (as opposed to the roll), the concept of a continuous and connected form of records is not easy to grasp. The difficulty arises from the disparate nature of the two different units; the separated pages of modern books, contrasted by the unbroken contents of the lengthy roll of paper. Ryu has taken on this method, which deviates from the old notion of the drawing (a depiction of a singular image in a strictly separated screen), and by doing so he has moved forward with the world; just a few years back, we “flipped through” comic books, but now we are able to “scroll down” comic strips on the web, and the latter is much more effective in showing the continuance of time and the correlation of events – an important aspect of an epos. As Ryu’s pen tip glides across the map of his epos upon the 30cm of paper, he leaves a third of the space for the other part of his works. Unlike other artists, who only inscribe the date of completion, Ryu goes the extra mile by recording not only the beginning and the end, but all the events in between; the amount of time it took, the days of rest, and even the days when he failed to draw the intended amount are all recorded. This honest communication (the most crucial component of a true epos) with the audience of his works not only shows the enthusiasm and worries during creation, but also serves as a disclosure of his private life, making the work itself the very proof of Ryu’s existence: pingo ergo sum.

   After preparing for his labor, Ryu adds on the contents of the epos – the drawing – which deal with “life, language, silence, myth, and the world of the future,” as put by the artist himself. Every so often a direct criticism of society and his own political opinions are also amalgamated with the principal topics. However, one cannot specifically dictate the substance of the completed piece. This perplexity is due to the fact that the images are, for the most part, merged in a very intricate and complex manner, and the borders between each scene are nonexistent. It is in this quality that the peristalsis of Ryu’s text is shown with utmost lucidity. It can also be said that the morphing and organic trait of his illustrations is a major trait of his works. The idea he wants to point out through the convolution of images are super-metaphorical or meta-symbolical. Still, it is not a completely inconceivable encryption. As the mechanism of people being able to understand foreign languages through impulse and feelings, Ryu’s creations become harder to comprehend as the viewer becomes more aware of the institutionalized syntax of the image as they know it. In reality, it is when the viewer recovers a more basic sensitivity that the drawings elucidate the epos of the artist who created them. But of course, the number of viewers who will be able to rise to such a status is expected to be low.

   Whatever the artist himself says does not seem very important, for, unlike history, the epos does not need to be an exact witness of time. For that reason, Ryu’s hieroglyphics do not seem to have the rules and regulations as other codes do. Instead, they seem to have fruited through the arbitrary cross-pollination of his artistic sensitivity and the epic cause of his works. The element of chaos within this phenomenon could represent artistic liberty, but could also signify the protection of the interpretation of the audience; a reflection of the artist’s intention to suggest the audience to break free from the norm of the image, and freely create their own visual epos. Ultimately, Ryu’s works seem determined to make a connection between its audiences; a connection like the one made when two different children are able to have a carefree conversation in their two different languages.

Jung Rak Kim


Description of documented works

  My work is inspired by daily life. The inherent changes within ordinary elements, such as media, television, books, music and current events are the impetus for my work. Through knowledge and discoveries, human beings realize intangible, universal truths. These statements come to me in microscopic or spatial means. My thoughts, hands and eyes are unified by energy and creation, like a grape that grows bit by bit in order to sustain the next cycle of fruit. Life is as twisted as grape vines, and can go any which way at the slightest whim. This exhibits the Chaos theory, which is the most common motif in my work. The subtleties and rhythms of geometry and the intrinsic possibilities of energy, holograms, technology, lasers, simulations, ancient civilizations, and microbiology exist in my art.

  There are three themes that are omnipresent in my work: time, space and humanity. The most prevalent theme is humanity, especially honor, silence, myth, the future and the subconscious. My images show that elements of the human existence, such as perspective, distance, and location are neither consecutive, nor ordered.
  Elements of poetry, philosophy and science are imbued with divine truths, and as we move into the twenty first century, they increasingly intertwine to create an organic whole. These elements must be in dialogue with one another, and individuals eventually realize that all elements of life are interdependent. Everything comes from one source, and ultimately aspires to the same goal.
  My work transcends the five senses and the physicality of the human body, through the conscious and subconscious mind. One of the inexplicably basic mantras of life is that intangible truths exist without rhyme or reason. Just because you cannot see something, does not mean that it does not exist. I feel these truths in the vision that appears behind closed eyelids, and in the muffled sounds that come through deaf ears.
  These questions are constant in my life, and intrinsic to my work. These ideas are amorphous, and can be sensed if you are attuned to the patterns of the universe.   I am seeking these truths in my thoughts, and I am listening inside the chaos. The sounds are teaching me through the time, effort and consciousness to feel these energies.

Seunghwan Ryu