Too much honesty often makes people uncomfortable. That is why photographers Photoshop their images, erasing pimples and adding extra sparkles to the eyes, and why artists beautify their subjects on the canvas.
Artist Ahn Chang-hong, however, is not afraid of putting people at unease. In fact, he seems to enjoy revealing the ultimate truth by showing humans in their naked state, sometimes adding grotesque details such as bugs and rats to the backdrop.
Ahn’s solo exhibition “An Inconvenient Truth,” which starts at Gana Art Center in Pyeongchang-dong, Seoul, on Friday, is not for the faint-hearted ― it is packed with 40 of Ahn’s large-scale nude paintings.
“Woman Holding a Dog” by Ahn Chang-hong. (Gana Art Center)
It is not because the paintings are too erotic. Sure, naked men and women look straight at the viewers, but they do not cast lustful eyes. Nor are they posing obscenely.
It is, rather, because the figures in the paintings are so shockingly realistic in the way they are intricately depicted down to the last drooping belly, and also because they do not show professional models but regular people you can see anywhere, or who even perhaps remind you of yourself.
“I wanted to tell the story of regular people and express the nobleness of the human body which we rarely recognize. Artists try to make it beautiful or erotic when it comes to nude paintings, but that was not what I was going for. If I had used a professional model, I could not have expressed the healthy and truthful nude we actually see in our everyday life,” said Ahn during a press conference Tuesday.
Born in 1953, Ahn only graduated high school, which is a disadvantage in the Korean art world where connections are important. Ahn did not make the least effort to try to fit in, but decided to pave his own way instead.
He refused to follow any style trend but continuously produced works that sharply reflect the problems and issues of society in his own way. To his surprise, art critics responded positively to Ahn’s stubbornness.
For the naked “Bed Couch Series,” Ahn cast regular people around him including a tattoo shop owner he got to know, the couple living next door, and an employee at a nearby department store. It took him years to persuade some.
“They seemed to be embarrassed and satisfied at the same time when they saw the finished works, except for one elderly farmer. I persuaded him after ten years to model for me once, and when he finally did, he still simply did not care anything about paintings,” said Ahn.
A book featuring all of his works including his darker and eerie series ― in which he distorted faces printed in photos to criticize the irrationalities of society ― is published in time for the current exhibition. Art critics love it, but whether the public will embrace such shocking images is another question.
“The level of artworks here is generally low. People tend to like only pretty and crafty artworks. But art is diverse. Many artists are rightly assessed only after a long period of time, so I am just going to continue doing what I do,” said Ahn.
The exhibition runs from Feb. 11 to March 6 at Gana Art Center in Pyeongchang-dong, Seoul. For more information, call (02) 3217-1093 or visit www.ganaart.com.
By Park Min-young (email@example.com)