Ha Jung-woo hits ‘PAUSE’ for first LA art exhibition

March 4, 2015
(PYO Gallery)

(PYO Gallery)

By Tae Hong

You could walk past PYO Gallery in Downtown Los Angeles right now, see a collection of bold, vibrant paintings on exhibit and never know that the hands that filled those canvases are the same hands that have accepted more than a dozen Best Actor trophies.

South Korean actor Ha Jung-woo’s first art exhibition in Los Angeles, “PAUSE,” is aptly titled if only to describe his first extended rest in nine and a half years, a period during which he topped box offices, directed two films and led a whopping 19 projects.

Ha’s story is told in snippets of self-reflection, perspective and expression through symbols and self-portraits dating from a busy 2014 to as recently as his current stay in the City of Angels.

Inside the cozy gallery a day before the exhibition’s official opening, the 36-year-old artist is hopeful for visitors to take away one thing from seeing his work: positive energy.

(Ha Jung-woo/PYO Gallery)

(Ha Jung-woo/PYO Gallery)

“My mission as an actor is to entertain people, to give them emotion and joy and laughter through me and through my films,” he said. “In the same way, I think I would like to hear that people get positivity from my paintings.”

Ha was a no-name actor struggling through auditions when he took up painting as an escape, a resting place.

As he grew into a household name — you can thank serial killer thriller “The Chaser” for that — so did his art. The drawings, free of professional training but filled with learnings from each of his crafts, acted as a diary, an outlet of expression.

That a staffer for “One Fine Day” spotted one of his drawings on his cellphone background and suggested he consider debuting his artwork to the public was coincidence.

It was inevitable that this hobby of his would become more of a responsibility, though it’s one he plans to continue.

Ha held his first solo art exhibit in 2010 in South Korea, followed by displays around the world in Hong Kong, Singapore and New York. Even Los Angeles has had a taste of his work, through LA Art Show last year.

“A hobby is something you love, something only for you,” Ha said. “But now that I’m sharing [art] with everyone, of course I’m feeling responsibility. The simple thought I have is that I should take that responsibility and do even better with it.”

Just as inevitable was the intertwining of his roles as actor, director and painter.

“I had the thought that making films, acting and painting all come from the same root,” he said. “My method of expression in acting changed as I drew more, and what I feel from acting, I reflect in my drawings.”

Ha is the first to agree that he brings a unique perspective to the canvas, but it’s important to him that the paintbrush’s start line is at Kim Sung-hoon — his real name — rather than at Ha Jung-woo, A-list movie star.

“Before me as an actor, as a director, or as a painter, I’m a person first. What’s expressed is by human Kim Sung-hoon, because that’s where I begin,” he said.

(Ha Jung-woo/PYO Gallery)

(Ha Jung-woo/PYO Gallery)

Still, battles with his conscience are frequent.

Why do I care how others see what I do?, is a question Ha has asked himself more than once.

After all, he picked up painting for himself, not for others. Ignoring the eyes on him as he tries to bring sincerity to the canvas is a difficulty that he’s yet to solve, he said.

A part of Ha is unconvinced he’s grown up at all.

“I still feel like I’m in my 20s,” he said.

That young, try-everything mindset may be how he keeps going, project after project. It was his 20s, too, to which he dedicated years of endurance in sticking it out as an actor no matter how long the struggle.

“In many ways, I met my 30s the way I did because I gave my all in my 20s,” he said. “It’s not about one simple incident or defeat. Give it your all. It’s important to check with yourself to make sure that you have it in you.”

Not that he’s done giving it his all — Ha finished his sophomore directing effort with “Chronicle of a Blood Merchant,” a family drama that failed to live up to expectations at the box office upon its January release.

The film was a lesson in patience for Ha.

“The job of director, that’s going to be an exhausting one,” he said. “I had the thought that, just as my journey with acting, [directing successfully] will not happen in a short period of time. My hope is to find realization and depth as I continue to do it for the rest of my life.”

Los Angeles was the light at the end of a long tunnel of work. The most rest he’s experienced since the 2000s is one, maybe two months. This stay, as much a “pause” as any, is lightheartedness and fulfillment following a busy, busy, busy storm.

It’s back to film sets and Chungmuro glamour come June as he prepares for another three years of nonstop work.

But for now, the “pause” is ongoing in Los Angeles — with what he notes are its offerings of deliciously giant fish at the Korean markets and its sunny roads — a place he’s visited twice before.

His goal? Keep sticking it out. Hopefully, you’ll be seeing him around for a very, very long time.

“I’m envious of Clint Eastwood,” he said. “That he can keep working passionately even at his age. That’s envious.”

Ha Jung-woo’s “PAUSE” will be open through April 18 at PYO Gallery, located at 1100 S. Hope St. Suite 105, Los Angeles, CA, 90015.

One Comment

  1. mary

    March 4, 2015 at 2:51 PM

    SOOO GOOOD!! awesome!