Korean graffiti artist grabs attention in NY

January 14, 2014


Korean artist Yoon Hyup has been selected as one of the painters to decorate the side wall of the “rag & bone” shop with his signature work inspired by traditional Korean motifs in Nolita, Houston Street, New York.  (Courtesy of Kim Do-yeon)

Korean artist Yoon Hyup, with his signature work inspired by traditional Korean motifs, has been selected as one of the painters to decorate the side wall of the Rag & Bone shop in Nolita, Houston Street, New York. (Courtesy of Kim Do-yeon)

By Chung Ah-young

U.S.-based fashion label, Rag & Bone, opened its store in Nolita, Houston Street, New York in 2010, taking the former space of Cafe Colonial, the district’s iconic old coffee house. Local residents didn’t welcome the new store and turned the side of the building into an eyesore by scrawling graffiti on it.

The brand then decided to turn the ugly space into a rotating art space called the Houston Project which is designed by various NYC-based artists and painters who cover the wall with striking images. The murals are now a hot tourist attraction providing energy and inspiration to all who pass by.

Yoon Hyup, a Korean artist living in the area, has been selected as one of the painters to decorate the space with his signature work inspired by traditional Korean motifs.

Before him, world-renowned artists such as Meres One, a curator and graffiti writer from 5 Pointz participated in the project, along with Brian Alfred, Erik den Breejen and Aakash Nihalani.


The company chose him because it regards his unique artwork as fresh and new. His painting was opened to the public on Jan. 11 and will be displayed through Jan. 30 on the street.

“I am honored to join the project because it is my first official project since I moved here last June. It is a wonderful opportunity for me to show my work which contains my cultural identity to be shared with New Yorkers and other tourists,” he wrote in an email interview with The Korea Times.

His latest mural titled “Wishing a Bright, Sunny Day” resembles a maze without an end intertwined with arrows and cloud-shaped faces. Some say that his painting is reminiscent of the works produced by the world-renowned artist Keith Haring.

“There’s a new Rag & Bone mural on Houston by Korean artist Yoon Hyup. It’s a cool, kind of Haring-esque maze,” read one posting on Twitter.

“At first glance, this ‘arrow heavy’ mural could be mistaken for work by Keith Haring. After all, some of the shapes and color schemes bear a marked resemblance to some of Haring’s output,” said Bowery Bogie, the district’s largest site.

But his oeuvre is influenced by traditional Korean culture and street art. The artist has been actively exploring the unique visual history of his native country.

“My artwork adopts traditional Korean patterns such as vine clouds and wind clouds, which were frequently used in ancient paintings and expressed in five colors ― red, blue, yellow, black and white,” he said.

He said that “cloud and wind vines” used in ancient architecture, costumes and mythical paintings are traditional concepts of beauty in Korean art.

“I have been very curious about distinctive national characteristics expressed in contemporary artworks particularly graffiti created by various artists from other countries. As an artist, I think I should express the cultural identity I grew up with. I tried to convey characteristics of Korean culture to other people outside Korea in my own way,” he said.

After finishing his mural, passers-by react with amazement about the work. “Many of them asked me about the cloud patterns portrayed in the painting and I explained the meaning of the clouds which originates in traditional Korean culture. They said that it’s very fresh and new,” he said.

He began developing an interest in painting when in his teens after seeing street artworks by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring in the 1970s.

He has collaborated with Nike, Tommy Hilfiger and MTV. His artwork was adopted at Nike’s promotional event, decorating the interior of its headquarters in Seoul. He also worked with American artists to create surfboards for Tommy Hilfiger. He painted on the surfboards displayed in the shops.

He also took part in Seoul City’s project inspired by Haechi, a legendary animal representing justice and integrity, a symbol of Seoul, along with 10 other artists.
Currently based in New York, he integrates his signature character inspired by an expressionless “cloud face” into his work to symbolize urban life.

“I created the graphic character in 2007 because clouds wander like expressionless urbanites. The clouds represent urban life and at the same time its cultural roots are in traditional myths that regard clouds as mysterious things,” he said.

His unique reinterpretation of traditional Korean elements helped him become a rising figure in the nation’s art scene and he is now expanding his work and profile to become part of the international pop art world. Using multi-layered, solid lines and vivid colors, he has continually developed his work from street art to work shown in exhibitions.

“As Korean pop culture is becoming recognized around the world, I hope my artwork displayed in the heart of Manhattan through the Rag & Bone project will promote Korean styles to not only New Yorkers but also other foreign tourists,” he said.

One Comment

  1. haring

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