Sung Jik Yang
Philip Martin Gallery
March 18 – April 29, 2023
In an urban environment bustling with countless, transient faces, what better way to get to know the inhabitants of our city than through the eyes of a portrait artist? At Philip Martin Gallery, Korean-born, Los Angeles-based painter Sin Jik Yang presents us with an intimate introduction to a few faces of his hometown of San Gabriel Valley.
His solo show, Paseo, is a series of oil portraits (created in 2021-2023) which offer a variety of modern identities disclosed through forthright expression. The paintings range from small, simplistic headshots to large renditions of families captured within casual environments. Among all of them, however, Yang manages to convey an exceptionally candid, if not private, account of these unknown individuals. Most of his subjects have their gaze fixed directly at the viewer, beckoning us to question the backstories of their lives, to know their joys, their struggles, how they fit into society’s game. According to Yang, they are a combination of unique characters he simply met on the street, as well as those that play personal roles within his own life.
In his domestic scenes, beds are unmade, shelf objects are randomly ordered, and overlooked scraps litter the floor: It’s these untidy elements which especially add to the life-like appeal of his work. Joanne Looking in Mirror is a prime example of this. Turned away from the viewer, a young lady is perched at her bed’s edge, consulting a makeup mirror in the direction of dim light drifted through partially drawn blinds. Still in sleepwear with phone in hand and chosen outfits spread nearby, girl, we can presume, is deciding on how she will present herself to the new day.
In David, the soft grin of a young man as he casually strums an acoustic guitar both charms and lures the viewer into the cryptic environment. Clues about his life abound, such as the backpack beside him, the slew of stacked furniture and cleaning supplies, and the document sealed in plastic that dangles from his instrument. He is quite possibly relaxing in his home garage, or maybe even backstage at a music lesson. Regardless of circumstances, his humanness is felt.
Yang masterfully uses the wet-on-wet (also known as alla prima) technique, evidently borrowing inspiration from classic impressionistic painters of our past. However, his subject matter focuses on everyday people of today. His method of applying fast-paced, textural brush strokes has a way of locking in the emotion and energy transmitted from subject to artist. In effect, these renditions tingle with feeling and warmth; and should we reach out and touch their imitation flesh, it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to perhaps discover a pulse beating there.
Cover image: Joanne Looking in Mirror: all images courtesy of Philip Martin Gallery, photographed by the author.