[INTERVIEW] Ha Jung-Woo: From the Silver Screen to the Canvas

The artist Ha Jung-woo. Photo by Morgan Cadigan.
The artist Ha Jung-woo. Photo by Morgan Cadigan.

It turns out that Ha Jung-woo is much more than a handsome face, one of South Korea’s most prominent entertainment figures, and an international celebrity. He is also an emerging artist…I guess some of us really CAN have it all.

Since his early twenties, Ha Jung-woo has been running the gamut of artistic expression, beginning with minor roles in TV sitcoms and independent films like Madeleine and The Unforgiven, to writing and directing his own masterpieces including Fasten Your Seatbelt and the recently-released Chronicle of a Blood Merchant. To put it simply, the man has enough awards in his arsenal to distribute among everyone who has ever lost to him. With such experience both on and off-screen, it’s no wonder he is considered by many to be South Korea’s gem.

Despite his obvious aptitude for cinematic artistry, Ha’s unquenchable thirst for self-expression helped him revive a dormant kinship with the paintbrush and occasionally, the marker, that has since opened up many doors in the art world—specifically the doors to the PYO Gallery in Los Angeles (among others). Having operated on “high”  for the past ten years, starring in over thirty films and directing two—all of which topped box offices, by the way—the title of his exhibit, “PAUSE” remains an enigma. Ha ha.

With a vibrant, fresh & perplexingly playful style that is somewhat reminiscent of Afrikan folk art, Ha effortlessly and deliciously captures the simplicity of human emotion and expression, presenting us with vivid images of characters from his films, life, and the uncharted corners of his own mind.

Ha Jung-woo, Timeless, Acrylic, pen on canvas, 72.7 x 60.6 cm, 2014. Photo courtesy of PYO Gallery.
Ha Jung-woo, Timeless, Acrylic, pen on canvas, 72.7 x 60.6 cm, 2014. Photo courtesy of PYO Gallery.
Ha Jung-woo, Monday Morning, Acrylic, pen on canvas, 48 x 36 in, 2015. Photo courtesy of PYO Gallery.
Ha Jung-woo, Monday Morning, Acrylic, pen on canvas, 48 x 36 in, 2015. Photo courtesy of PYO Gallery.

…And let us not forget, amid all of his talents,  Ha’s humble and gracious nature. This past week, our very own Bruin pal, Yoonjae Suh—armed with a series of questions compiled by us Art folk at TPM—had the privilege of sitting down with the man himself. After some brief begging, he even allowed our Editor-in-Chief to snap one, very sacred photo (see above).

Here is a little insight into the magical engagement that transpired, according to our friend and translator, Yoonjae Suh:

Q. How did you start painting?

HJW.  “I started painting when I had no job. My life was only about going to auditions and meetings…it felt so dull. Nothing was assured in my life and I wanted to do something to feel secure. So I just bought pencils and sketchbooks and started drawing and painting for myself. It was almost like a diary.”

Q. We understand that you’ve been painting for about ten years now. What initiated your recent decision to start exhibiting your work in Seoul, Hong Kong, New York, and now in Los Angeles?

HJW. “While I was filming My Dear Enemy in 2008,  a writer of the film saw my art on my phone wallpaper by chance and suggested that I hold an exhibition. That’s how my paintings came out into the world. “

Q. Have you ever had formal education in the arts?

HJW. “I have never received any art education, but I read books and watch movies on famous artists. I collect art and talk to artists, listen to what they think about their work and style. That has helped me learn about art. I am still in the process of learning.”

Q. How did your relationship with painting change after you started exhibiting and became more successful in your other endeavors?

HJW. “I feel more responsibility. It is not this responsibility that keeps me painting today, but it certainly deepens the process of making art. But I think painting, making movies and acting come from the same root. I have felt painting’s influences on my acting. And I transferred what I felt as an actor to my paintings too.”

Q. Painting and acting are both forms of artistic expression, but would you say that there are things you have learned from painting that you could not learn from acting?

HJW. “As an artist, we want to make perfect drawings and perform perfect acting. But I realized what I can do (that may not be perfect) actually helps to develop what I can express uniquely. I think art and acting becomes more appealing if you don’t sweat to cover your weaknesses, but focus on strengths.”

Photo by Morgan Cadigan.
Photo by Morgan Cadigan.

Q. What or who is the inspiration behind your pieces? We know that you frequently paint throughout your filming process. Would you say that these portraits are reflective of characters in your films?

HJW. “I do not plan in detail to paint something. I just translate my unconsciousness onto canvas. I learn about myself from looking at what I come up with. The characters and expressions in my paintings are from myself, not from the characters. It is from my original being.”

Q. Does your interest in art affect you as a movie director?

HJW. “Very much. It was fun talking to art directors about my influences by other artists. I ordered specific colors from Chagall paintings for my recent movie, Huh Sam Gwan. I said, ‘I want the color of night sky in this painting for this scene.’”

Q. What advice would you give young artists on developing confidence and becoming successful?

HJW. “I think it is important to ask yourself  ‘Do I have a strong determination to do this?’ I spent all of my twenties acting. You have to continue doing it. Making consistent effort is very important.”

Q. For you, what is the most challenging aspect of making art?

HJW. “When I become conscious of other things. When I feel like I am making up something that is not myself. I hope to reveal my true essence and stay sincere. I started painting for myself anyway.”

Q. Your work is innovative, direct, and emotional—what kind of message do you hope that L.A. locals will perceive when seeing your work?

HJW. “I hope people feel positivity. “


By Amanda Lucido  

amandalucido@gmail.com   Art Section Contributor




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