Come fly with me

Traveling has long been off the cards, and while people around the world are trying to create the atmosphere by exploring their locales or going on staycations, Korean artist Kim Yong Oh commemorated his travels with paintings created over the past year.

Beginning his 723-day journey of 69 countries in 2017, Kim first set foot in Irkutsk, Russia, and took the Trans-Siberian Railway to Moscow, from where he continued his trip around Europe. He then went on to Africa by way of the Strait of Gibraltar and trekked extensively around Latin America before ending his trip in Thailand.

The journey left the 35-year-old with a wealth of inspiration, reflections and experiences that inspired his ongoing series, now showing at Gallery by the Harbour until March 21.

The Wanderlust includes 18 paintings created last year, when the artist was forced to stay in Korea due to the pandemic.

Through bold colors, clear outlines and exaggerated features, Kim reinterprets the cultures and lifestyles of corresponding cities in his artworks, paying close attention to cultural details.

In Tour Eiffel, an expansive pure pink sky and equally rosy blossoms set off the silvery Eiffel Tower, portraying a romantic scene of travelers taking photos at dusk.

City Life (Hong Kong) picks up on the neon lights from the buildings on Hong Kong Island and accentuates them with the navy sky and the deep prussian blue of The Peak. In the foreground, a painterly figure walks along the harborfront in the yellow tracksuit made famous by martial arts icon Bruce Lee.

However, rather than just featuring cultural symbols like architecture and costumes, Kim also depicts fantastical elements of his own in the way of slightly fluorescent colors that do not seem to match with the scenes.

“In the creative process, colors can visually maximize the illusion,” he said.

The incongruity of colors is vividly displayed in Ginza, in which a bright scarlet sky is set behind one of Tokyo’s top shopping districts. The odd color contrast was inspired by observations Kim made during his trip.

“Upon arriving in Ginza, the most striking thing for me was that people in dark-colored clothes were walking quickly for their own reasons under the numerous neon signs of department stores and high-end shopping malls,” Kim said.

For him, the scene conveys the extreme abstinence of desire – which chimes in with his general impression of the country.

The painting also take into account of the site’s history, where trees were cut down and mountains leveled to make way for new buildings, resulting in an urban wonder.

Tens of thousands of crows that used to live there are now intruders, infiltrating the city to coexist with humans. In Kim’s interpretation, the facial features of passersby are ignored and replaced by crow’s beaks.

Cultural significance is also a theme in his work, highlighted in Foto de Familia, which depicts a family comprised of different races taking a photo in front of the La Sagrada Familia in Spain.

For the artist, the church’s three grand facades are especially striking because of the way the name of the church – which translates to “Holy Family” – and its incomplete status reflects modern European families, which are composed of multiple races and ethnicities.

In Kim’s words, as a person who grew up in the homogenous society of Korea, there was an overlap between the impression that the family and the church gave him – namely, the intermingling of cultures.

Speaking about the global outbreak that has been going on for more than a year and left many people bored and depressed, Kim said he hopes the exhibition can bring back fond memories of trips taken in the before times.

He also hopes to see the changing world through his journeys and commemorate them through his “strange but humorous and rational” artistic language.

(This article was published at The Standard on March 19, 2021: Weekend Glitz: Come fly with me )

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