...hyper-realistic portraits of Korean men, relating to my personal story.

내 마음은 한국에 있습니다. ❤


About the "Beautiful Stranger" project:

It might seem strange for an abstract artist to suddenly switch to portraits, so I want to share my thoughts that led me to this project. 

Jackson Pollock casts a long shadow.

The idea for this project started with my artwork being compared to Jackson Pollock's works. I would get so depressed every time someone would tell me any of my paintings look like Jackson Pollock's work. My friend, Alicia would try to calm me, saying it's a compliment, but it didn't feel like a compliment. I was painting that particular technique, for two years before I ever heard of Jackson Pollock. When someone compliments my work, but then says it looks like a Jackson Pollock painting, they are implying my work isn't original. It diminishes everything authentic about me that went into that painting. Art galleries aren't interested in artists who paint like someone else, as they want you to have your own signature style, and for all your works to have cohesion. I eventually realized my artwork was never going to be seen as mine, but rather as something in the shadows of Jackson Pollock. I came to believe that because he was the first to paint in this style, he would always be viewed as the best. It was not only a competition I could never win, but a comparison I never wanted. 

내 마음은 한국에 있습니다. ❤

Breaking away from abstract is one thing, but why portraits? I feel challenged by things that fascinate me, yet are beyond my abilities. I have "Asperger's-related facial recognition deficit", so painting faces is a difficult challenge for me as an artist. This project for portraits was inspired by South Korean dramatic actor, 이진욱. (More to be explained when his portrait is unveiled.) At the time I contacted 이진욱 in regards to this project, he was busy filming "Voice 3". For reasons to be explained later, I chose to start with the portrait of 이정훈, the bassist for South Korean rock band, Nell (넬).  (Also to be explained at the official exhibition.)

Identifying beauty in the unrecognizable.

Due to my facial recognition difficulties, I usually identify people by the sound of their voice or the movement of their mouth when they speak or sing. The first time I saw the moving mouth of 이정훈 was in a close-up view of him singing backup vocals in a Nell music video (The Trace), performing White Dwarf Star in 2008. 이정훈 was wearing dark sunglasses, which enhanced my focus on his mouth. (More details to be explained when his portrait is unveiled.) When actor, 이진욱 was temporarily unavailable, I went looking for photos of 이정훈 online. I laughed, and then cried. His mouth was closed and he wasn't wearing sunglasses in any of the photos, so I couldn't recognize him! I wasn't even sure I had the right person, so I looked for him on Instagram. I was relieved to know I did have the right person, but it was frustrating how he looked like a different person to me in each photo. After 이정훈 accepted my request to paint his portrait, he sent me a selfie for a reference photo. Aside from being a stunning subject, he had an intense Scorpio-impish smirk that I felt challenged to capture in the portrait. 

I looked at the reference photo of 이정훈 day and night, obsessively tracing the intricacies of his features with my eyes. I was mentally painting with the paint brush in my mind, trying to figure out how to paint something so obscure to my eyes as a human face. All I could think about is, if I didn't accurately capture the authenticity of his unique smirk, the whole portrait would be ruined. That smirk was everything, and I don't know how to paint faces. I started to panic. 

Anxiety destroys confidence.

Why did I choose such an impossible project? Why did I involve other people, making it impossible for me to change my mind or give up? I became depressed, feeling like there was no way out. You know what they say, "the only way out, is through". I had to do this project, but I knew my work had to be perfect yet unique to matter. Looking at the photo 이정훈 had sent me, I knew the only way to achieve the level of perfection his intriguing smirk deserved, was to learn how to paint hyper-realistic portraits. (aka photo-realistic)  As if painting portraits wasn't enough of a challenge for me, attempting hyper-realism would make it exceedingly more challenging. 

Our magic happens far outside our comfort zone.

I have many disabilities and limitations. This project was absolutely beyond my abilities. Everything I read about how to paint hyper-realistic portraits was adamant the technique required patience, and should only be attempted by patient artists. Guess which virtue I lack. Suffering from crippling anxiety, chronic sleep disturbance, and many other mental challenges, I knew patience isn't something I could just simply learn. I felt my success with this project was already doomed before I even started. As a splash and splatter abstract artist, I hadn't used paintbrushes in years, so add that to the growing list of challenges. To make this feat more daunting, there are the physical disabilities to over-come. I have double vision in one eye, blurry vision in the other eye, arthritis in my hands, chronic pain, and an attention span so short it borders on useless. Struggling to watch portrait tutorials was causing me anxiety, as I could only watch three to nine minutes at a time. Getting nowhere was frustrating me. I knew I couldn't give up or quit. I paused to go through the "how"s and "why"s of this project, wondering how I got here, and desperately trying to figure out how to get to the other side; meaning a finished surreal hyper-realistic portrait of this beautiful stranger. How did I get here? I set the bar too high for myself as per usual. Why am I insecure? Because this project is too far beyond my abilities. Am I doing all I can to succeed? No. I realized I was doing all I could to sabotage myself to get out of this over-whelming project, without it being my fault. That was the moment I stopped sabotaging my project, and started doing everything I could possibly think of to learn what I needed to, and practiced constantly, day and night for two months. I practiced in acrylics and oils, going back and forth deciding at which would I be more adept. Some nights I didn't even go to sleep, painting for 24-36 hours straight with no breaks. At some point I had to start using tiger balm on my hands and wearing wrist braces, because my hands were in unbearable pain and my wrists were fatigued. I would drink coffee at all hours just to get through a few minutes of hyper-realistic portrait painting tutorials. I had to do whatever it took to succeed at this project. Maybe I involved other people in this project so I would be accountable, whereby forcing me to succeed.

Dream it, do it, become it.

The portrait below, of my daughter, Jessamine, is my first practice portrait. It's not hyper-realistic, but it is a promising step in the progression of my artistic abilities. 

Estimated release dates for "Beautiful Stranger" hyper-realistic portraits:

Actor: 이진욱  2019

Singer/musician: 김종환  2019

Musician: 이정훈  2020 

Follow updates on Instagram

My first practice portrait: Jessamine

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한국 음악, 영화, TV!