Koh Sang Woo creates vivid images of human figures with an approach that adopts painting, performance, documentation and traditional photographic techniques. The artist’s work is characterised by the development of a blue tone photograph that captures his subjects using negative film. The prints are the product of a labour intensive dialogue with his sitters who see the artist adorn their bodies with props such as butterflies and flowers. Most importantly, Sang Woo applies water-based paint with gentle brushstrokes across their body and hair.
His sitters are presented in their own uncomplicated, pure world untarnished by material concerns or human vice. By reversing the colour and light in the exposure, he gives an unmistakable visual electricity and intense emotional charge. His work has been described as hyper-real romance for the digital age.
At the heart of Koh Sang Woo’s practice is a paradox between reality and fiction, the biographical and the surreal, and a hybrid form between performance, painting and photography. The immediate visual impact of Sang Woo’s work leads one to believe his art practice is innocent and idealistic, but at the core of the artist’s philosophy is a hard line on how we respond to social and cultural obligations. He shows us the world in reverse, subverting the traditional processes not just of photography and paint, but also deconstructing the way in which we look at others and see ourselves.
Since graduating School of Art Institute of Chicago in 2001, Koh’s work has reached early acclaim. The artist exhibited with the Carl Hammer gallery upon graduation, and has participated in various international fairs such as Armory Show, Armory Photography, Pulse Miami, Scope New York, Art Chicago, ACAF NY, CIGE Art Fair. Koh’s works have been shown internationally and are held in various collections worldwide. Koh recently has exhibited at Christies London and Sungkok Museum in Seoul.
Knowing that audiences are forced to see the optical fact that photography conventionally projects, Koh Sang Woo paints a visual poem of love to extract the deeply embedded internal emotion on to the exterior, deliberately exploiting photograph’s capacity to realize a truth or reality to deliver a sentiment that is difficult to grasp by creating a tangible portrayal through successive processes of paint, performance and photography owing to his hopelessly romantic wish to conserve its existence and for the viewer to reconsider the true meaning and value of love.
The stunning contrast of aquatic blue-green, brash yellow and blistering orange seeps through the documented scenes of two couples in loving embrace, staging an overall painterly ambiance with brusque strokes of neon purple and yellow that signify their ethereal existence. Here, we find Koh’s artistic method in literally extroverting their introverted consciousness to the surface of their skin through inversion of color negatives by suavely toying with the visual and conceptual paradox of positive and negative, inside and outside. Drawing a richly metaphoric scene with crisp contours of mesmerizing butterflies in What Light Dreams When The Sun is in Love, Koh concentrates on building an environment of a fantasy with dreamy motifs of nature and human in compositional and colorful harmony; Hug exudes a more expressive charm through the power of color and abstraction with its subtle arrangement in focusing on the body of two becoming one with vivid smudges of pulsating colors that unifies them in affection; his shrewd awareness of the color theory and the textural conversion of negative photography.