When you walk into Yoon Hyup's studio in Brooklyn on the edge of Bed-Stuy and Bushwick, you're walking into not only the artist's work space, but a museum for decades of skateboarding culture. The South Korean painter, known for his signature lines and dots, grew up in the skateboarding culture and got his start painting outdoor walls. Now, his compositions of everything from the New York skyline to the famous Fujiwara Tofu Shop AE86 out of Initial D can be recognized throughout the art community.
Like many of his peers, Yoon proudly displays personalized works from his favorite artists in the doorway leading down to his studio. Pieces by famous graffiti artists Stash, Futura and Haze are hung on the walls. In addition to these artists, some of his favorites also include Rammellzee, KAWS, Haroshi, Mike Hill, Don Pendleton, Nam June Paik and others. He also has a piece he did of the Astor Place Cube (Alamo) signed by Keith Hufnagel.
When you reach the bottom of the stairs, you are welcomed into a cozy studio where previous works are hung and at the time of my visit, a new piece of canvas was being blessed with fresh strokes of melodic lines and dots. Yoon says that "painting with lines and dots started around the early 2000's." He further expands on the birth of his style, "I was a skater but also liked to paint on the walls outside. I remember I fantasized about the movement of Zoo York, Wild Style, Rock Steady Crew, Barnstormers, and Mo' Wax. At the time, I had DJ friends so I had chances to live paint with them on stage many times. When I was painting during those performances, lines, and dots felt natural to me and it was a good way to draw quickly. Since then, my style has become a present to myself from those years of progress."
Yoon's love of skateboarding culture started even before his artistic style was developed. "In the '90s, I remember I liked browsing skate graphics, logos, and artworks in CCS Catalog and Transworld Skateboarding. I was attracted by the artwork of Ed Templeton, Andy Jenkins, and Mark Gonzales. I think that was the beginning of when I started to really enjoy creating and started to have an interest in computer graphics. Mike Hill and Don Pendleton's graphics for Alien Workshop is my all-time favorite."
The New York skateboard scene and culture also inspired Yoon heavily. "The history of Zoo York with the NY artists inspired me a lot. I personally believe there's a likeness between skating and painting. When you skate, you feel rhythm and flow. Sometimes I imagine myself as a liquid that flows in the street and creates lines while cruising or doing tricks. When I paint on the canvas, I feel a similar feeling too," he says.
His unique view on art has allowed Yoon to collaborate with a multitude of big brands like Nike, Converse, Tommy Hilfiger, HUF, Medicom Fabrick, and Cinelli and also to have large paint installations done for companies like Facebook, Nike, Rag & Bone, Wieden+Kennedy and Universal Music Group. In his studio, he has a section dedicated to mementos from various collaborations.
When it comes to doing these collaborative works, Yoon says he's been lucky that most of them, if not all of them, have happened organically with people and brands that he's already familiar with and likes. "I collaborate when I already know the brand well enough or when it naturally happens. Honestly, I haven't had to think about a brand I want to collaborate with because luckily, clients have always come to me and proposed collaborations. Sometimes I don't do it when I don't understand the brand well enough or it doesn't fit well with my style."
So how does the artist go about creating new pieces and works? Yoon admits that he balances organization with impulse. "I think I'm more of a planning person during the brainstorming stage. While I'm choosing a subject for my work, I organize my studio, listen to my favorite music, skate, or run outside to get rid of the pressure. Then usually a good idea comes up. Once I get an idea of what to paint, I just go with freehand. I plan the big layout when I need to but I like to paint without sketches. I think jazz would be a good example as a comparison to my creative process."
Jazz is an interesting and accurate comparison to Yoon's creative process. Watching him work, one could tell that he has a bigger picture in mind but also lives in the moment and goes with his gut and creative vision to paint at any given moment. The three words he chose to describe his own style also are words associated with jazz: simple, rhythm, improvisation.
With a plethora of paints and brushes at his disposal, Yoon seamlessly shifts his chair from his desk to his easel, which already has a work in progress on canvas. His concentration is unwavering as he opens containers full of paint, readies his palette, and wets his brush before applying a purple dot onto the piece. The number of times he goes back to make sure that dot is filled with ample amounts of purple paint is why his style has become so beloved; consistency through repetition and attention to detail.
As he puts down his brush, Yoon tell us of his future endeavors. Fans in New York are in for a treat and can see Yoon's work up close when he opens his new "MIDNIGHTS" exhibition at GR gallery alongside fellow artist Bisco Smith on March 20. After that, he will be showing an exhibition in Milan in April and having a solo show in Seoul in May. Before leaving, we asked the artist where he'd want to have an exhibition and he responded, "I think it'd be great if I can paint on the whole surface of a concrete skatepark. Also, sometimes I imagine that I'd like to create artwork for a stage of an orchestra or big musical hall."
Someone help Yoon Hyup get these exhibitions done because the world would benefit from more of his rhythmic and soothing lines and dots. To keep up with Yoon, follow him on Instagram @ynhp or visit his website yoonhyup.com.
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