Q&A: Changha Hwang

Exceeding Flash, 2009 | Acrylic on cotton canvas, 70 x 60 inches

Changha Hwang isn't afraid to keep it old school. Despite the architectural, memory board-like qualities that appear to mark his painted abstractions, the South Korean-born artist couldn't be less influenced by technology, touting ancient Peruvian geoglyphs as his source of inspiration. Since being included in edition #74 of New American Paintings, and for the last several years, Hwang and his intensely fresh brand of abstraction has been featured in a multitude of international solo shows. We caught up with the New York-based artist this week to talk about his work.  —Evan J. Garza

EJG: You were born in Korea. When did you first come to the States?
1990, when I was 21… I lived in five different regions of South Korea. I was born in Seoul. And I lived in South Korea until my father died… My parents were divorced when I was little, and they both remarried. My mother remarried to a Korean American, so she was living in America. I was living with my dad, but he passed away, so I decided to join my mom in the States.

EJG: Were you painting when you were in South Korea?
No, not at all. It’s funny—I have an older brother who always wanted to be an artist. So, being an artist was my brother’s thing, not mine. When I came to the States, and I was done taking English classes at a community college in Dallas, I was able to take art courses. I came across a drawing class and I fell in love with it... I liked art-making more and more, and I decided to come to New York to go to art school.

Wedded, 2009 | Acrylic on Canvas, 84 x 57 inches. Courtesy of Benrimon Contemporary and the artist.

EJG: Your abstractions are rooted in a kind of sleek, hard-edged fluidity, where sharp beams of color and pattern appear somehow smooth. Tell me about how you draw up your compositions.
It’s organically done. I don’t have a particular plan or anything. I’m really interested in pattern and architecture and special qualities in art. It’s intuitively done and the mark-making is done with the next mark following the first… I don’t know if you know the Nazca Lines in Southern Peru?

EJG: Yes, yes!
When I started in school, I was very much interested in the Nazca Lines, how those simple lines bisect a two-dimensional surface on a pictorial level and they create some kind of spatial quality. So, I ofte used those elements as a starting point. Whenever I was in school, and from there on, I came to include the textile design in Mayan and Aztec culture and also even into Renaissance archictecture. It’s a big mix of everything. Somehow I never think about computer digital imaging at all. A lot of people say that it influences the paintings, but it really doesn’t.

Shortening, 2009 | Acrylic on cotton canvas, 70 x 60 inches

EJG: I was just about to ask about that. Your work has a very unique brand of abstraction, as if your compositions might be composed digitally or informed by electronic grids. I was going to ask how technology and information play into your work, but you say it doesn’t.
I mean, I’m fascinated by technology. I was really interested in reading all the Postmodernist ideas by Jean Baudrillard, but somehow I never think about [incorporating] those ideas into my painting. I just never work that way… I really don’t use visual reference in my painting at all.

EJG: What is it about geometric forms that you find fascinating?
I think [the geometric form] deals with the space in a much more fundamental level, and it brings out the notion of color much better to me. The color itself becomes object-like when I use hard edge lines. My perspective is in color. I try to see it as my interest in color.

Jealous Blue, 2009 | Acrylic on cotton canvas, 30 x 30 inches

EJG: There’s a great deal of implied dimension in your work. The picture plane looks very much like a three-dimensional object when you’re standing in front of it. How do you approach the dimensional qualities in your work?
I have really silly thoughts all the time about imagery… I kind of wanted to get to the notion of the time in painting, or time in general. I always thought how interesting time is, it’s always moving in one direction… And whenever you think about space, time and space always go together. That’s kind of my interpretation of my notion of time, and [by] making simple dimensional paintings I might create some kind of idea of what time means. I often try to think that way... I always think that I develop this particular language, and I’m simply playing with it. Trying to make sense out of it, trying to make a sentence and say something.

EJG: So, lastly, have you ever visited the Nazca Lines in Peru?
No! Never. I’m worried if I go I might lose interest in them. I’d love to go, though.

Changha Hwang
was featured in edition #74 of New American Paintings. He will be showing at PULSE Miami in December with Massimo Audiello and will also be featured in a solo show of his work in March 2011 at Benrimon Contemporary, New York.

Images courtesy the artist and Benrimon Contemporary, New York.


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