Artist Yoo Seungho’s Playful Paintings That Combine Images and Texts

August 17, 2021

A Team

Yoo Seungho, 'a gold spoon,' 2018, Acrylic on canvas, 57 x 44 in (145 x 112 cm). Courtesy of the artist.

From a distance, the works of Yoo Seungho (b. 1974) may look like sansu (shanshui, mountain, and water) paintings of classical China and Korea, calligraphy, or abstract paintings. However, the closer you get to the artwork, the more you realize that the paintings are not made up of brush strokes. Thousands of small Korean characters on the screen generate varying levels of grayscale concentration to compose a single large image.

The artist must have painstakingly accumulated the Korean characters with hundreds of thousands of letters. However, reading the words somehow causes the audience to chuckle. Since the artist intends to convey humor and fun rather than seriousness, onomatopoeias or mimetic words found in comic books, and even rude and joke-like colloquial expressions are written as if they were drawn in the artist’s stream of consciousness.

In Yoo’s paintings, the act of “drawing” is accomplished through “writing.” The outlines and shapes of the image are composed of repeated words that come to the artist’s mind, which can be appreciated visually with images, perceived, and even heard in one’s mind with the readable characters.

Text (Letter) Painting, Echo Word, and Miss Lamella are some of Yoo’s most representative works among his numerous series.

Yoo Seungho, 'yodeleheeyoo~,' 2007, Ink on paper, 39 x 27 in (100 x 70 cm). Courtesy of the artist.

Text (Letter) Painting, which resembles a traditional ink landscape painting, is a group of works composed of words that appear to have no connection to the drawing. However, these words are connected to and stimulated with the artist’s imagination through associations.

For example, the beautiful scenery in yodeleheeyoo~ (2007) is made up of the alphabet character “yodeleheeyoo,” which reminds us of yodeling. Yodeling is a form of European folk singing that is believed to have originated in the Alps when herders needed to communicate between Alpine villages.

The landscape in the picture is from East Asia, but anyone who sees the breathtaking view of the mountain would be compelled to yell “yodeleheeyoo” at the top. In this manner, the artist employs certain evocative words that appear seemingly out of nowhere and creates works in which language and painting coexist and the boundaries between time, culture, and authority are erased.

Yoo Seungho, 'woo soo soo soo,' 2017, Acrylic on canvas, 57 x 44 in (145.5 x 112 cm). Courtesy of the artist.

The ‘Echo Word’ series is characterized by a more abstract form than the previous works. The series explores the relationship between words and images, based on the idea that words can be associated with images and exist because of them.

For example, in the work 엉~엉 (echo words) (2008), the two Korean letters “엉엉 (Eong-Eong),” or the sound of crying, are written as if they were two enormous tears running down a light green background, while hundreds of smaller characters drip down from the two letters. Through this series, the artist questions whether the image’s meaning is derived from the text, sign, or symbol, or vice versa.

Yoo Seungho, 'Miss Lamella,' 2019, Ink and acrylic on canvas, 96 x 72 in (245 x 183.6 cm). Courtesy of the artist.

In the Miss Lamella series, the artist combines images and line drawings as if they were a chemical reaction. Yoo sprays water on the squiggly lines drawn with colored pens. As the ink from the pen spreads, the drawings are transformed into accidental abstract images.

In this series, the artist borrows the concept of a lamella structure or folded chain, which is a structure or process in which molecules form layers and chains to create a stable and solid body. It is difficult to achieve a perfect crystalline chain structure, and the only way to obtain a more stable form is to subject it to heat.

Yoo uses pens and water sprays as opposed to heat for this technique in his artwork. In this series, the artist attempts to visualize his study and contemplation of the structural form, meaning, and text of characters.

Yoo Seungho is an artist who attempts to blur the boundaries between images and linguistics, signs and meanings, subjects and backgrounds, and form and amorphousness. Through his works, Yoo shows that such a state of ambiguous boundaries is natural.

The artist explained, “It is important that the works are neither written nor painted. The essence of the artworks is to segment and deconstruct the meanings of the works and subvert them into meaningless forms.”

Artist Yoo Seungho. Photo by Kim Sun-A. © Topclass.

Artist Yoo Seungho has held solo exhibitions at many major galleries and nonprofit organizations domestically and internationally, including the CR Collective in Seoul (2019); the P21 in Seoul (2017); the Doosan Gallery in New York (2013); and the One & J Gallery in Seoul (2005). He has participated in several group exhibitions, including Seoul’s Doosan Gallery (2014); the Seoul Museum of Art (2013); the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (2009); the Mori Art Museum in Japan (2008); and the Alternative Space Loop in Seoul (2006). He was awarded the Excellence Award at the 5th Gongsan Art Festival in 1998 and the 22nd Seoknam Art Award in 2002.

Through October 9, 2022, the Seoul National University Museum of Art (SNUMOA) is displaying the works of Yoo Seungho in the group exhibition Succession and Segmentation: Collecting Some Contemporary Korean Paintings with Jung Tak Young.