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Interview: Vivid Details of Exotic Cacti Unexpectedly Come to Life in Hyperrealistic Paintings

Korean artist Kwang-Ho Lee paints incredibly hyperrealistic depictions of exotic cacti blooming across enormous canvases. Measuring up to 8 feet tall, the vivid images make for a mesmerizing viewing experience: up-close details like hairy surfaces, feathery blossoms, and tiny bristles are abstract shapes, textures, and colors that make up an extraordinarily lifelike whole, when taken in from a distance. Each meticulous element becomes a part of the plant's distinct personality, wildly different from the next.

As one of South Korea's most eminent realist artists, Lee has exhibited his work prominently over the last 15 years. Many of his paintings are displayed in the nation's most prestigious art institutions, including the National Museum of Contemporary Art, the Seoul Museum of Art, and the Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art.

Update: We were able to ask the artist a few questions about his eye-catching cacti paintings. Read that exclusive interview, below.

Why did you choose exotic cactuses as your subject matter?

Nearing the end of my series Inter-view (2006)–a collection of portraits that thoroughly demonstrated the textures and details of people's skin, clothes, and characteristics–the concept of cacti just appeared unconsciously. There was no intention to send a particular message or symbolism with the medium of cacti. I have tried to grow a couple, but they never managed to survive due to my laziness.

How did you achieve such an incredible sense of realism in your paintings?

I take photos of cacti from a cactus institute in Seoul, then I sketch them. Once I decide on the size of the work, I cover the canvas with cloth and start the grounding process. First, I paint the white part; this is half the work that goes into the painting. The actual depiction of the cactus is done in different parts. The actual process takes days if it's quick, or two weeks if it's slow. Depicting the object is done rather quickly; the process is finished before the paint has even dried.

The paintings are quite large and imposing when viewed in person. What was your reason for choosing such a grand scale?

People tend to have different perspectives on things and recognize an object differently depending on its size. Through my magnification of the cactus, I am able to alienate the object and make it seem as though it's something completely different.

Kwang-Ho Lee: Johyun Gallery | Artsy | Kukje Gallery | Atelier Aki Gallery
via [Colossal, staceythinx, Hi-Fructose, Beautiful/Decay]

Thanks so much for the interview, Kwang-Ho!

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