Hands, Feet and Faces Against Disturbing Headlines: ShinYoung An’s Meditative Paintings

“In the Koreas, Five Possible Ways to War”, “Held by the Taliban”, “Israeli Commandos Raid Hez Stronghold”—the work of New Jersey-based artist ShinYoung An frequently features such depressing headlines of conflict and violence. But the news stories are carefully painted over and pushed into the distance. They become the backdrop for either portraits or domestic activities. The final images appear to serve a threefold function. One, they highlight the importance of an awareness of history. Two, they aim to preserve print media, a form many of us have lost touch with. And three, they gently urge us to enjoy the little things of life, concentrate on the concrete, be calm, not be carried away by the constant flow of information.

ShinYoung An

ShinYoung has organised her paintings on newspapers in two collections, “Hands & Feet” and “Winds of Hope (Face Series)”. In the first, we find people polishing and clipping toenails, lighting candles, using electronic devices. In the second, personalities emerge, often with symbols of hope, truth and dreams around (usually bubbles).

The artist explains: “My Hands and Feet paintings on newspapers were motivated by an article on June 16, 2006. It was about Bill Gates’ plans to leave Microsoft. This article impressed me because it showed how Bill Gates had decided to turn his attention to philanthropy, and away from Microsoft, one of the biggest and richest companies in the world. This almost never seems to happen in Korea, where the heads of corporations frequently utilize foundations as a way of transferring management powers and wealth to their sons and daughters.

ShinYoung at George Segal Gallery at Montclair State University, Montclair, New Jersey

“After reading this article, I had difficulty sleeping that night…I reflected that focusing on my portraiture was not challenging enough, in the sense that I was only focusing my talents on pleasing myself.  So I moved towards my new Hands & Feet work in order to express my opinion and spread awareness about some abuses in our current society. As I looked through many newspaper articles for my artwork, I realized even more that I had been so ignorant about many unfortunate and horrible events around the world.

“The main theme of my Hands and Feet series is exploring some of the unfortunate realities of our present world, and juxtaposing ordinary routine tasks with exceptional and often disturbing events. The viewer can be aware of the coexistence of both disturbance and peace through my art.”

On the second series, ShinYoung continues: “All my paintings in the Winds of Hope series are produced using oil on a background of a collage of newspaper articles about the civil rights movements around the world. The main theme is to express and show the impact of civil rights demonstrations including those related to black history, gun violence in America, revolutions in Asia and Middle East, and sexual slavery during the Japanese occupation of Korea.

“I believe that the more people are made aware of what is going on, the more likely they are to change the world for the better. If people ignore politics, they could end up being managed by the lowest quality person. Like Alexis de Tocqueville once said, ‘In every democracy, the people get the government they deserve.’ And what Einstein said, ‘Never underestimate your own ignorance’.”

Originally from South Korea, ShinYoung An studied at the Art Students League of New York and “Cercle Artistic de Sant Lluc” in Barcelona, Spain after receiving her M.F.A. in painting from the Graduate School of Figurative Art of the New York Academy of Art in 2001. Her work has been shown at numerous exhibitions (8 solo, 2 two-person and 110 group) throughout the U.S., Italy, Spain, Japan and South Korea since her arrival in the U.S. in 1995.

She has received 31 awards including a 2011 fellowship grant from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, Best of Show 2004 from the Heartland Exhibition Merriam, Kansas and an Xavier Gonzalez & Edwards grant for painting from the Artists League of NY in 2003. Her work has been reviewed and published in more than 40 critical articles across the globe.

Links: Website (an-shinyoung.com) | Saatchi Art (www.saatchiart.com/AnYoungArt) | Facebook (www.facebook.com/AnShinYoung) | Twitter (@syanpainter) | Pinterest (www.pinterest.com/anpainter

Images used with permission.




Polishing Toenails


Peeling Garlic


Clipping the Second Toenail


Joining Candles for Light



Ocular Trophy. ShingYoung writes: “​Look close and you’ll see I painted tiny trophies in the portrait’s eyes to express every athlete’s dream. It is a tangible example of success. The hand covering the mouth represents the Korean people’s silence about unfair government actions preventing the people from hearing the truth, correcting wrongs, and reaching their goals.”


Wishing for Peace. ShinYoung writes: “​I combined the news articles about the disassembling of the Berlin Wall anniversary celebration with the North Korean issue. The people of Germany united safely and peacefully while disassembling the Berlin Wall. I hope that also happens on the Korean peninsula for reunification and peace.”
A Spring Breeze. ShinYoung writes: “​My motivation for this painting was the article pasted underneath about the Jasmine Revolution in the Middle East and how the revolution spread out around other countries by social media such as Facebook and Twitter. I used a candle to show my reaction to these news articles and to represent the young and the women who participated in the protest. I wanted to highlight the sacrifice of their lives for a better future by using candlelight. We often use a lighted candle for a nonviolent way to strike out against injustice or in memory of victims and those who died. Fire signifies the light from darkness. Candlelight symbolizes the sacrifice of one’s life. I painted the candlelight series mostly using Middle East revolution articles. The Arab Spring was started by a young boy who set fire to himself to make others aware of the difficulties to survive and the hopeless future of young generations under the corrupt dictator of Tunisia. Knowledge of his actions spread out around other countries by young people who used social networking. We should keep lights on because life’s memories fade just like the light of a candle that burns down.”


The U.S. Citizen. ShinYoung writes: “​The articles behind it involve mass killings by gun violence in America. Surely we can write laws and regulations to greatly reduce such tragedies.”


Peace by War? ShinYoung writes: “​The background is a collage of newspaper articles about the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. Close up, the candlelight looks like a nuclear bomb in the middle of which are the names of soldiers who died in war. From afar, it appears as an abstract form of a circle with a peace symbol in red over dead soldiers.”