Meet the K-pop stars taking on the art world

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written by Megan C. Hills, Granthshala

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At first glance, three names with an array of surreal high-contrast paintings, moody black and white photographs and Jackson Pollock-esque spatters might not stand out among the more than 70 artists to be exhibited at the London art fair next week.

But fans of K-pop may recognize at least one of them: Henry Lau, a Chinese-Canadian singer who rose to fame with the South Korean boyband, Super Junior. Reversing the name of another artist, Ohnim, meanwhile, reveals his identity as rapper Mino, a member of the popular K-pop group Winner. His bandmate Kang Seung-eun is flying under the radar using the pseudonym Yoyon.


All three artists have made successful careers in South Korea’s growing music industry. Now, they are attempting to break into an even tougher market: the elite world of contemporary art.

All three can have no less than potential buyers when their art goes on show Start, a five-day fair at the Saatchi Gallery in London. Eager-eyed Conquer fans have already offered Mino—who asked for the piece to be referred to as Ohnim—thousands of dollars for one of his original paintings. However, speaking from Seoul via video call, the rapper said that he is hesitant to sell his work publicly.

“Hundreds of my fans keep offering all kinds of prices for a piece because they are fans,” he said through a translator. “But I don’t want to do that. I really want to be in the art world and have it recognized by critics that my artwork has a fixed price. I don’t want to take advantage of my fans. I have to take care of them.”

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Omnim’s fellow winner is band member and photographer Kang Seung-eun, who goes by the artist moniker Yeon. Credit: From YG K Plus/Start Art Global

When START founder David Ciclitira talked to Ohnim, Yoyon and Lau about selling their art, they were at a loss for how to value them – or even whether to sell them . (Ciklitira, a prolific collector of Asian art, bought a painting by Ohnim before the fair, but declined to say how much he paid, saying via video call: “They were just so excited that someone would buy something.) wanted.”) with some persuasion, the musicians settled and produced 250 limited-edition prints (signed and priced at $500) for the fair, as well as an affordable range of face masks, mugs and tote bags. agreed to.

Popstar’s partnership with START will undoubtedly draw new eyes to their work – especially in Western markets where they are far from household names. But the relationship is mutually beneficial. Ahead of the fair, they are enthusiastically sharing flyers and previewing their art to their millions of followers. In June, Ciclitira held a Seoul exhibition titled Korean Eye 2020: Creativity and Daydream, in which the trio’s artworks and the pulling power of K-pop helped it reach a “very large audience”, the collector said, ” It’s bringing people into the arts.”

For Ohnim, however, the ultimate goal is for his work to be appreciated by authoritative industry voices. “I really want to be a true artist,” he said.

to hide

With all the qualities of a K-pop star — a giant ring flashes on her finger as she poses questions from behind tinted glasses — Ohnim isn’t your typical visual artist.

Currently pursuing a solo music career, Winner is on hiatus, he initially began drawing as a hobby. The self-taught 28-year-old, who counts the likes of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele among his favorite artists, eventually got “more serious” and transitioned to painting, sometimes sharing his art to his 6 million Instagram followers. posts.

A painting by Ohnim is set to be displayed at the Start Art Fair.

A painting by Ohnim is set to be displayed at the Start Art Fair. Credit: start art global

Their face-to-face, overly saturated images are a far cry from the upbeat dance tracks their band is known for, featuring contrast figures slipped on the canvas and emaciated body being raised into the sky. Among the artifacts on display at Saatchi are a colorful but disturbing range of paintings from his collection “to conceal.” in one, a ghostly face Peer between red and green fingers. in another, Eye The face of a magenta figure is being forced open with a different hand.

When asked about the series, Ohnim said, “Sometimes I need to hide and (have) my place.”

“Because I’m a celebrity, I can’t show my emotions. I can be sad sometimes. I can be sick, or I just don’t feel good — but I need to maintain a certain image. So I called it ‘hide’ – to avoid letting the public show emotion through me.”

Like artists everywhere, Ohneem has literally had to go into hiding over the past two years, spending most of her time indoors as COVID-19 swept through South Korea. While the pandemic put a pin in his touring schedule, the time alone gave him time to focus on his art, he said.
Another painting by Ohnim depicts a figure surrounded by colorful figures.

Another painting by Ohnim depicts a figure surrounded by colorful figures. Credit: start art global

With the help of Ciclitira, Ohnim – along with Yoyon and Lau – found a secret studio, away from the prying eyes of their fans. He shared many of his new paintings on social media, completing 20 artworks so far during the pandemic (11 of them will be on display in London).

“I started to feel the responsibility and a heavy burden that I need to improvise, be more passionate and dedicate myself as an artist,” he said.

Referring to the so-called “K-wave” – a name for the growing interest in South Korean music, movies and TV dramas overseas – Ohnim believes visual artists will eventually enjoy a similar spotlight. “A part of me wants to lead K-culture and give other people a chance to show their art around the world,” he said, adding: “I feel I should be among its leaders to do well. There should be one.”

helping hand

Ciclitira may be best known as an art collector, but he has also enjoyed an illustrious career in the music industry. As president of the events and entertainment group Live Company, he has worked with and promoted Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson and Tina Turner. He has also worked extensively in South Korea, developing a close relationship with Ohnim’s label, YG Entertainment, which has managed some of the biggest names in K-pop, including Psy of “Gangnam Style” fame. .

While Ohnim was already well established as a musician, Sonia Hong, one of the directors of Ciclitira’s company, recognized his extensive artistry when one of his paintings went viral on Instagram, earning more than a million dollars. Get likes

“I said, ‘Oh my god, Mino paints?'” she recalled in a video interview.

A music industry veteran himself, Hong has worked with the Start founder for 14 years and is a close friend of Ohnim’s label’s managing director. Sensing the rapper’s potential, he approached the label to see more of his art, which he showed to the curators at the Saatchi Gallery. (“We don’t recruit people just because they’re famous,” she said.) When they deemed her work, in Hong’s words, “interesting,” they proceeded with collaborations with Yeon and Lau.

Ciclitira said much about the attitude of the trio, saying that they “didn’t even throw it in my face once” from the fact that they are famous.

Featured is Start Art Fair participant Henry Lau, who creates abstract paintings in black and white.

Featured is Start Art Fair participant Henry Lau, who creates abstract paintings in black and white. Credit: from monster entertainment

“They could do it, because if you have 10 million followers and you walk down the street in Seoul, everybody follows you, it could go to their head,” he said. “But they’re polite, they’re polite, they want help. They really want to ask what you feel about their work.”

Ciclitira is careful to clarify that she and Hong do not “manage” any of the stars and are instead “helping them out” with the other actors appearing in START. Ohnim maintains his own management, noting that his label has been “very supportive”, but has been “cautious” about the “abuse” of his celebrity.

It remains to be seen whether Ohnim will be able to make his Saatchi debut in London amid scheduling and pandemic restrictions. Ciclitira, which had also arranged for Starr’s vaccinations in the hope that it would improve his chances of going to the UK, had to contend with Starr’s other commitments: namely a South Korean reality TV show, around the time of its opening. Shooting begins.

When asked if he would attend the opening of the art fair, Ohnim entered the interview in English for the first time. Looking straight into the camera and leaning forward, he insisted, “I want to go over there. Really.”


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