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David Heo "Honey & Smoke"

Vertical Gallery, Chicago’s premier urban-contemporary art gallery, is very proud to present “Honey and Smoke,” a solo exhibit spotlighting Chicago artist David Heo.

Running from Mar. 7-28, 2020, “Honey and Smoke” assembles a series of paintings and collages exploring the underbelly of social settings like bars and nightclubs — after-hours milieus where human interactions can suddenly and irrevocably erupt into animalistic violence.

“Honey and Smoke” documents observations and experiences from Heo’s own life. “Everybody likes to go out to bars and parties, but I feel like all the scariest things happen at night. These spaces where you want to have fun can also really bring out the worst in people,” he explains. “My work revolves around those interactions and translates them metaphorically. I’m throwing the viewer into an instance I found impactful, but it’s not important for me or for them to know whether it’s the beginning, the middle or the end of the story. What’s important is that it was a moment that was either incredibly beautiful, frightening, or melancholic.”

The exhibit’s title draws inspiration from the expression “Like bees to honey,” Heo adds. “‘We want to surround ourselves with all the things that are attractive to us. But if you flip that expression: “To get more honey, you have to smoke out the bees.” It’s wild because it completely flips and hints towards aggression. Because smoke assaults their senses, the bees let their guard down. Which translates to “you must be aggressive to get the things you want.” The bulk of my work for this show is about presenting those contradictions, contrasts and hypocrisies — this struggle within ourselves and the complexities of desire.”

A native of rural Acworth, Georgia, Heo took his earliest creative inspiration from the drawings of his older brother. As a teen he immersed himself in tattooing, a craft that deeply influenced the hard edges, detailed imagery and bold color palette that are hallmarks of his work today. Heo received his Master of Fine Arts in Painting and Drawing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; while at SAIC, he frequently employed non-traditional materials like crayons, house paint and construction paper, anticipating the collages on display in “Honey and Smoke.” “I didn’t have the money to spend a lot on materials, or the luxury of having time. I was thinking about practicality while still translating my work coherently,” Heo recalls. “The idea of using cheaper materials came from that. But it also came from a place of familiarity — the materials I used as a kid.”

Heo mounted his first solo exhibit in Chicago in late 2017; he’s since exhibited in galleries across the Windy City as well as London and San Francisco, and collaborated on projects with brands including Lo Rez Brewing, the Ace Hotel and Newcity. This is Vertical Gallery’s first solo exhibition with the artist.

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