I am how I paint

Looks can be deceiving, and our daily perceptions can be challenged by artistry. To set things straight: these are not photographs, even though photos are used as a tool and a foundation, following in the tradition of the godfather of photorealism, Chuck Close.

Ki Yoon Ko predominantly paints portraits. He beguiles the canvas with his dark graphite powder, and his experimentation with this highly sensitive medium results in a unique form of painting.

At first he moistens the powdery substance, which is like the inner life of a pencil. Then he undercoats the canvas with tones similar to those he previously employed in his watercolours. Finally, he adds layer after layer, a process which can take up to two months – in contrast to the rushed pace of our modern lives – and focuses on a comforting deceleration.

Ki spent the first seven years of his life in South Korea, lived in North America for the next 24, before ending up in Germany. His painting isn’t limited by geography, however. Where he lives isn’t important, but his rather his way thinking and the place he inhabits emotionally.

His work is consciously close to American photorealism, and he exploits this through the black and white tones, and realistic portrayals in his work.

He tries to grasp a moment of human existence. The Suzi series can stand as an example of most of his portraits, and belongs among his most poignant works. He came across the Californian artist with an Asian heritage, like his own, by accident in Hamburg. Multiple photo shoots with her followed, and what arose, are works that blend cool photorealism with lively expression.

His use of an unusual technique - “omission” - means his work is also easily recognisable. He says that through “...only painting a part of the face, or leaving the mouth out, is also a way a removing something from that person that I liked.” He fits his subject with a new identity. Suzi, who speaks a lot, becomes speechless. At the same time, the playfulness is obvious: Suzi is biting a lemon, Suzi is shouting... Beginning with the first in the series in 2003, the motive continues today, and is being further modified.

Classification of his work within a contemporary art context is difficult, even when considering the current boom of realistic painting emerging from the formerly communist East, as through his elaborate technique and hyper-realistic form he remains an isolated phenomenon.

Birgit Rauschenbach, Curator.