In painting, roughness as a sign is automatically evocative of the Baroque period. This art is known for concentrating paint around a detail that goes against the grain. Like the oyster transforming the alien particle into a beautiful pearl, the painter makes a masterpiece from a defect. This analogy is tempting, and also obvious. It was the goal of Baroque painting. In the service of the Counter Reform, it used the grandiose to better subjugate the faithful and elevate their souls to higher spheres. To be sure it was understood, it took care to leave a certain roughness for these faithful to hang on to, such as a reassuring curve, or an Apostle with a very familiar face. These are defaults for the art lover, but entry points for the layman, who sees his everyday life transformed into a fairy tale : the butcher as John, the washerwoman as Mary. On the surface, his life becomes the Gospel, and this is where the analogy stops.
In Hwa’s work, the discourse doesn’t take place on the surface; the roughness is not there to vie for our acceptance. It is there to trip us up. It’s not about Baroque, but Mannerism, this intellectual art born at the edge of the Renaissance to better play with it. It is an art that reveals itself only to the insider. How can one understand Michelangelo’s over developed bodies if one has not learnt about Masaccio, when one replies with a hyperbole to the obsessive anatomical faithfulness of the other? It is an art of quotes that can only be understood if you speak Ouattrocento. An art where beauty is about intellectual mastery of references more than it is about aesthetics.
Like Michelangelo and Jules Romain, Hwa appropriates from his predecessors to better play with them. He steals Ingres’ Odalisque – who before him stole from the Mannerists a few vertebras for her model- and dresses her with a dragon, thus doing he invites, on the surface, through an antinomic hybrid, mannerism, neoclassicism and tattoo art. Unless it is about stickers... When he plays with Sophie Marceau, it is this time Courbet and his scandalous realism whom he conveys and contradicts, destroying the realism of her breasts with logos, the way a famous brand would. It’s more than just counterfeiting : he’s a thief.
Actaeon, Perseus and Pandora
We’ve come full circle. The artist and his accomplices have caught us in their nets. Reassured by the renowned tradition of European pictorial art, attracted by the bling of the pin-up, we went for it. We never saw the mirror and our thoughts swung back at us. You got lost with the voyeur, found again in contrition, rallied before condemnation. But the last trick wasn’t played yet. In these paintings, each detail is the reflection of another, a forever altered reflection. It transforms itself under our eyes and we take it in our stride. We believe in a closed circle, a pictorial microcosm where questions and answers would be hidden, until we understand. The answer is not in the circle. The circle is the question, a Pandora’s Box, surreptitiously opened. Now, how can we break this circle and vanquish the stereotypes without creating new ones?
Maï Le Gallic, june 2011 (Art historian)