Upon walking into her West Village studio, one realizes an artist never sleeps. The office is everywhere, as her work lines every inch of the walls. Time off is not an option, as unfinished sketches scatter the floor. She lives. She breathes. She is the art that inspires her, and in turn, inspires a wealth of others.
A woman lays on the couch facing a myriad of drawn beauties. No, it is not the artist, rather a seemingly wounded soul on canvas. Her raw, natural form is exposed in all its imperfect glory. Her face hides behind the crook of her serpent sleeve. A nymph-like visage with eyes closed, clearly suffering from a deeper soulful dilemma. A maniacal snake slithers within inches of the angelic complexion. A pair of butterflies combs the hair and detached lips of the mourner. Unable speak, yet speaking volumes. The otherwise lifeless figure tells a story of heartache, of longing and promise as the butterflies console and carry away the voice of the troubled.
I was fortunate enough to sit down with the mind of this emotive, sensual and endlessly labeled art. SunHe Hong.
After receiving her BFA degree in Fine Arts from Youngstown State University, SunHe went on to earn her AAS degree in Fashion Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Then joining The Arts Students League of New York, SunHe studied the anatomical form and abstract expressionism. A trip to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro was soon to follow. SunHe yearns for experience to satiate her ever-wandering mind. While she has learned in a short time what most never reach in a lifetime, refreshingly, she still searches for the answer to what it all means to her.
The fairy-like goddesses that prove to be SunHe’s mark juxtapose the light, airy nature of their typical connotations. Instead, a somber, yet empowering evocation fills the studio.
“My art evokes a wide spectrum of feelings. It taps into your subconscious bringing to life the hidden messages which lie within us, from our darkest pains to the most intimate forms of loving. If there is one thing I’d like people to understand about my artwork, it’s that life is filled with beauty, even at the darkest time. Beauty lurks all around us, even in places where you are least expected to find it.”
But what about the butterflies? The ephemeral creatures seem to flutter from canvas to page, following SunHe as she finds the light within the dark. The regal creatures, oftentimes in pairs, surround her modern-day Madonnas or simply assume the wings of her nymph-like, always-bare creatures.
Italian curator and art critic, Alberto Dambruoso, reflects on SunHe’s butterflies, “Here lies the beauty of the models and the butterflies which are their symbols becoming a pretext for the artist foreshadowing the souls. In conclusion, an absorbed dimension emerges between the contemplative, the dreamer, and the spectator. This allows both to be captivated and allows them to dream with their eyes open.”
SunHe divulges that the year was 2008 when the butterflies first emerged in her work. “It was a dark period of my life, a time where I felt grounded, unable to spread my wings and fly to beautiful places. This all changed when the butterfly appeared in my life, it transitioned me from being a grounded soul to one who flutters amidst the wind,” she says.
Flutters, she does. The lines of SunHe’s female form are effortlessly fluid. The nose flows to the lips, as the lips trickle to the neck and the body becomes an hourglass river. Some critics embrace the sensual nature of SunHe’s work, labeling the bare female form as ‘artistic eroticism’. SunHe’s work proves the female form as fluid and indefinable as the stroke work used to complete their sensuality.
Dambruoso talks of an ‘absorbed dimension’ only encapsulated by the model and their butterfly. We see the suspension of this ‘dimension’ as defying the carnage and eroticism oftentimes labeled to sensual art. We see existential philosophies battled in this sphere. We see an indefinable art. With an even more indefinable artist. We see SunHe in the purest of forms.
SunHe concurs, “In 2010, the butterfly in my paintings begins to represent female powers, as I gain self-confidence, butterflies have become the signature of my free-spirited soul!”
You can find SunHe’s art exhibition, ‘Awakening’, at Pepela restaurant and lounge on east 30th Street. Her halo-ed subjects embark on a journey of redefinition and fruitful repair, running parallel to the artist whose own journey inspires their expression.
After spending time reveling in her studio, it was no surprise to enter Pepela and find SunHe sitting amidst the work she inspires and her closest friends who she says stimulate life’s inspiration.
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