Individuality within a Group


By Park Young-taik, Kyonggi University Professor & Art Critic  


Oh Youngs work is packed with people of various looks and appearances in diverse patterns and clothes. They are in groups, and in collective action and poses. Most seem confined to a uniform frame, with deadpan faces, in mechanical gestures. It seems the artist has depicted people she encountered during her daily life, by recalling their faces, gestures, and gazes. Oh portrays human faces to express diverse thoughts about humans she saw and felt. They vary in appearance and looks, but are unified and similar too. They stand, looking in different directions, turning away their faces. They appear expressionless, coldhearted, and tired. We often meet such faces in the streets and our urban surroundings. These faces can give viewers a shock, or scar accumulated memories. They trigger diverse thoughts submerged and layered in the self.


Who they are? Why do they have such appearances? Why do they act like that? What do they live for? Oh Young feels their faces as unfamiliar, even awkward. She dreams of another way of life. Oh feels a sense of difference and unfamiliarity in their lives, tamed by the system of modern life. The artist seems like a stranger to them, feeling a strong sense of alienation. They seem like a cold and coarse wall, which has nothing to do with the artist.


Oh probably felt a sense of difference on return from study in Europe. Koreans are often different from Europeans, and may have created for her psychological conflicts or panic, enabling her to view life in Korea as a stranger. In Korea she witnessed contemporary Koreans floating in a group. Oh also realized in Korean society, people feel antagonism toward each other. In addition, they often intervene excessively in each others business, treat each other roughly, and force them to act collectively. She shows this experience as difficult and hard to adapt to. The fact she was unable to be in accord with them appears as her existential problem, which became the subject matter of her painting.


Ohs painting is a manifestation of her inner psychological state, alienated from others. Oh feels other Koreans adapt themselves to social realties, and thus she asks, Why is my life so unstable, doubtful, and inconvenient? It is strange how Koreans she met adapt themselves to society. But she was inspired by this. Ohs work is to visualize her inner self and thoughts. Her painting represents her ideas through images. In her unique depictions of the face, nose, philtrum, lips, neck, and shoulders – these stand out and appear sturdy. They are unrealistic but easy to recognize.


A group of people, from her fragmentary memories, appear bizarre and disharmonious. Oh represents her trivial, individual feelings from her life. Faithful to conventional ways of painting, her work displays her own visualizations. Her painting looks awkward and unfamiliar, to reflect its theme, resisting uniformity and standardization.


As mentioned above, people flocking in a limited space are symbolic of a forced situation in which they are caught and stuck. Most are in similar garments, with the same facial expressions, but one or two are in a different pose or appearance. We should be careful to look for these, like in a picture puzzle. These people advocate their independency and individuality within a collective system. Just one, in a different garment or hairstyle; with a different complexion gazes in a different direction, when all else look in the same direction. The artist presents a heterogeneous being in a group. The being is her own self-portrait. What her art pursues as a true artist is resistance of totalitarianism and sustenance of individuality.