Seng Yul Oh has created an instantly recognisable and idiosyncratic practice combining elements of East Asian popular culture with ironic references to high Western art history. Incorporating painting, installation, sculpture, video, performance, and public art, Oh works seamlessly across media. He is well known for whimsical art works that toy with scale and exist somewhere between spectacle and participation. Long resisting a conventional approach to form and material, he redefines and challenges ordinary objects and spaces in ways that are both light hearted and serious.
Previous installations have used air to manipulate and redefine space, including enormous bubbles that jostled for position on Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki’s outdoor terrace, and exaggerated and hyperreal sculptures of Korean noodle dishes and cute animal forms rendered in gleamingly reflective fibreglass. In 2013, Periphery, a forest of towering yellow and white pellet-shaped inflatables that audiences pushed their way through was selected by influential Japanese curator Yuko Hasegawa for the prestigious Encounters section of Art Basel Hong Kong. This showing led to Oh being named as one of the rising stars of the Asian art market by the UK’s Guardian newspaper.
Running parallel to these playful art works is Oh’s painting, a formal and sometimes minimalist practice, which the artist has described as ‘musical’ and offering moments of balance and counterpoint. Like much of his vastly diverse practice, an element of autobiography runs through Seung Yul Oh’s practice. Although reminiscent of Western minimalism and abstraction, his non-figurative work with its emphasis on process and materials owes something to the post-war Korean tradition of Tansaekhwa (Dansaekhwa). The term, meaning literally ‘monochrome painting’, appeared in the 1970s to describe work that shared a sparse palette and an innovative approach to process. This was a new movement, playing with and disrupting Western traditions as it filtered through a Korean cultural lens. A vital distinction from the logic and mathematically aligned Western movements was that Tansaekhwa focused on the meditative aspect of creating art, an approach of growth and layering rather than ‘emptiness’.
Oh has completed a number of public art works in New Zealand including the iconic OnDo, a larger-than-life sculpture of noodles held up by chopsticks in the Asian foodie mecca of Auckland’s Dominion Road. Other notable art works in the public realm include Form in Formation (2018), commissioned by the Nelson Sculpture Trust, Conduct Cumulus (2017) commissioned by SCAPE Public Art, Upon a Pond and Drop a Loop (2017) commissioned by Auckland Council, Beat Connection (2012) commissioned by MESH Sculpture Hamilton, and Globgob (2010) commissioned by Newmarket Arts Trust and Auckland Council.
Seung Yul Oh was the second recipient of the Harriet Friedlander Residency which, with support from the Arts Foundation, allowed him to undertake an artist residency in New York in 2011. Born in Korea, Seung Yul moved to New Zealand to study at the University of Auckland’s Elam School of Fine Arts, where he graduated with a Master of Fine Arts. He is now permanently based in New Zealand and continues to show internationally.