David Heo "Presence"
Vertical Gallery is very proud to present ‘Presence,’ a solo exhibit featuring new work by Chicago artist David Heo.
‘Presence,’ which runs from Sept. 11 through Oct. 2 at Vertical’s 1016 N. Western Ave. location, grapples with the unprecedented turmoil and tragedy that have consumed humanity in the 18 months since Heo’s first solo showcase at Vertical, the sold-out ‘Honey and Smoke.’ This follow-up show brings together vibrant, boldly intimate collages and canvases exploring the artist’s quest for identity, acceptance and catharsis in pandemic-era America.
“’Presence’ is a lot more personal than my work’s ever been before,” Heo says. “My work has always been honest — it’s just that for the first time, I feel no shame or fear talking about what I want to talk about. The desperation of the last 18 months forced me to come to terms with who I am. That’s why this body of work is so important to me.”
The title ‘Presence’ directly addresses Heo’s ongoing struggle for visibility and affirmation as an American-born artist of Korean descent.
“‘Presence’ is a word that has a meaning that means its opposite. It means ‘A person or thing that exists, or is present in a place, but is not seen.’ The other definition is ‘The state or fact of existing occurring or being present in a place or thing.’ It means you’re there, but also that you’re not there. I realized I need to look inward to make work that addressed this,” Heo says. “For the first time in my life, I’m not considering the world around me, but looking inward to understand myself in this world. ‘Presence’ embodies a whole demographic of people: Black, brown, yellow, or queer. We want people to know we exist, but many choose to look past us. The works in this show play on those ideas — to be seen and not seen, sometimes both at the same time.”
Heo’s heritage also takes center stage in ‘Presence’ via eight of the artist’s signature mixed-media collages, pieces inspired by traditional Korean celadon vases.
“My parents have a lot of Korean-oriented objects, and Celadon green vases were always present in my life. I don’t want to be pigeonholed as ‘the dude who makes vases.’ That’s not my shtick. But I will never get tired of this vehicle,” Heo says. “People don’t understand they’re functional objects: they hold water, oil and wine. But artists always felt compelled to paint on them to tell stories. Grecian vases have the same energy. The Greeks told their stories on everyday objects, too. It hit me ‘Why I cannot do that myself today? Why can’t I fill up this literal vessel with stories and snippets from my life?’”
All of the vase collages included in ‘Presence’ are accompanied by “pedestals” — fully-painted, narrative-based panels produced to display the collages directly above them, while also recontextualizing the story each vase tells. “Museum pedestals are sterile: they’re just white boxes in a glass case, and the vases sit on them,” Heo says. “But I thought ‘What if I create columns to present my vases on, and then pair them with different collages?’ I’ve never created works that depend on each other. But you’re going to instinctually marry both pieces and try to tell a story in your head.”
Heo received his Master of Fine Arts in Painting and Drawing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He’s since exhibited in galleries across the U.S., and collaborated on projects with brands including Lo Rez Brewing, the Ace Hotel, Newcity, Vans and the NBA’s Chicago Bulls.
September 11 – October 2, 2021
Opening day: Saturday, Sept 11, noon-6pm
1016 N. Western Ave., Chicago