Sardanapalus and Sardanapalus by Hyunju Kim

  • Title: Sardanapalus and Sardanapalus
  • Artist: Hyunju Kim
  • Medium: Oil on panel
  • Size: 11"h x 14"w
  • Creation date: 2016
  • Added to collection: 2016
  • Donor: Gift of the artist
  • Campus: Rock Creek
  • Location: B3/1 N Gallery rm 115
This small painting is based on an enormous 1824 painting (154x195") by Eugene Delacroix now in the Louvre.  Hyunju Kim, has deconstructed the source image into a series of mosaic-like color blobs.  This is not a digital pixelation, but rather a careful transcription of the modulation of color and light across the surface, akin to a composer taking the score of another and re-orchestrating it.  The colors shimmer from light to dark, cools to warm. The image is superficially similar to several others the artist painted at the same time of flowers, but despite having a similar look, this is not a floral scene.  The painting on which this study is based is "The Death of Sardanapalus" by Delacroix, depicting the moment when the 7th Century Assyrian King Sardanapalus, trapped disastrously in battle and faced with having to surrender, instead commanded that all his possessions, including his slaves, be destroyed in a funeral pyre of death, gore and excess.  Theatrical and lurid, inspired by a poem by Lord Byron, this painting signaled an important transition in French painting from the formal Classicism of Greek and Roman scenes to a more sprawling and dynamic Romanticism with its interest in the exotic ("Orientalism").
So is this merely a formal study of a famous painting or something more?  Hyunju Kim's paintings deal with the dichotomy between waking life and dream state. Her work often incorporates concrete images dissolving into chunks of color.  Many of the scenes in her paintings show people fleeing floods or bodies floating in water.  There is dream and disaster in her paintings and also in this seemingly simple transcription where slaughtered bodies turn into flowers. The artist writes:  "Like dreaming, painting is also an undiscovered ocean. It is a mysterious world that I am very engaged in both physically and mentally, and its position is in between dream and expression."
This painting included in her MFA thesis show at Autzen Gallery in 2016, was donated by the artist to the Rock Creek Art Collection in appreciation of the instruction she received in numerous art classes at PCC Rock Creek before she transferred to PSU to earn her MFA.