Chanmi Heo


Chanmi Heo draws attention to small and trivial things discovered in cityscapes and captures her observation of their subtle movements in paintings. She presents an interesting visual variation by making a large painting with an abstract landscape, and then placing a small canvas over it, which depicts detailed images of small entities that look as though they have been zoomed in. Through these paintings, the artists urges us to notice things in the city that we can miss carelessly.

Busan-based artist Chanmi Heo (b. 1991) concentrates on capturing small, banal, and seemingly unimportant things and motifs from the city life, such as weeds nestled between sidewalks, magpies sitting on a construction rebar, and manhole lids on paved roads. In Heo’s work, there is a poetic place for things that are neither socially approved nor pushed out, neither ideologically determined nor representative of any purpose or even any intention. They are fleeting, fragile, unattractive, and evoke the ephemera of personal existence, while also expanding into a social context of anonymous objectivity gained through poetic arrangement.

In most of Chanmi Heo’s works, motifs with specific formative characteristics such as humans, animals, and plants are arranged in stable compositions with geometric motifs such as furniture, rebars, and concrete blocks, creating a simple yet firm balance. In addition, the heavy physical nature of the motifs and a strong presence of physical entities emphasize a kind of concreteness and objectivity without any descriptive portrayal of their visual arrangement or environmental conditions.

A closer look at her works reveal that movements of events that are so small and fine to be recognized, like still scenes in a dream, are subtly implied in her paintings. For example, her works focus on capturing small and banal objects in urban life, such as weeds that grow between sidewalks, magpies sitting on construction rebars, and manhole lids on concrete roads. As such, her paintings become poetic places and stages occupied by anonymous beings that are not socially recognized, nor alienated or isolated, nor fit with the framework of standards or concepts that represent a purpose or intention. Furthermore, while their existence expands into a social context through anonymous objectivity acquired through poetic arrangement, there is a constant reminder on how vulnerable and ephemeral these beings are as individuals.

Heo’s oeuvre is characterized by a monotonous, stationary state that transcends time, but what she really wants to convey is the subtle actions and energy of minor characters in the world who are seemingly calm, invisible and insignificant. The subtle nuance on their vulnerable, ephemeral, and restricted life and the trite and trivial details that go almost unnoticed are given very important meanings in this quiet micro-narrative and reveals the hidden aspects of a firm, true, and indispensable reality.

Chanmi Heo
1991 Born in Busan, Korea
2015 M.F.A. Dept. Fine Art, Kyungsung University, Busan, Korea
2017 B.F.A. Dept. Fine Art, Kyungsung University, Busan, Korea
2022 Roots Floating on Water, Art and Chois, Seoul, Korea
2021 Settlement, Wooson Gallery, Daegu, Korea
2019 3 1 0 4, Space Clip, Busan, Korea
How To Stretch Dried Paper, Space Gachang, Daegu, Korea
2018 Little David, Hongti Art Center, Busan, Korea
2016 Derivative Addiction, Space Mandeok, Busan, Korea
2022 Minimalism-Maximalism-Mechanissmmm Act 1–Act 2, Art Sonje Center, Seoul, Korea
2021 BMA COLLECTION REPORT, Busan Museum of Art, Busan, Korea
“Versatile Volumes – The Best Dutch Book Designs Meet Korean Artists’ Books“, KF Gallery, Seoul, Korea
ART BUSAN “BNK Young Artists Exhibition“, BEXCO, Busan, Korea
2020 Words at an Exhibition–an exhibition in ten chapters and five poems, Busan Biennale
2020 Remains, Gallery Migo, Busan, Korea
2019 There is no lesson in this exhibition, COCA, Busan, Korea
Twilight Zone, Space Imsi, Incheon, Korea
Union Art Fair, S-Factory, Seoul, Korea
New Drawing Project, Chang Ucchin Museum of Art, Yangju City, Korea
2018 Knot: Wrap, Hitch, Tie, Hongti Art Center, Busan, Korea
Art Garden, Forty Steps Park, Busan, Korea
Vision&Pespective 2018, Busan Museum of Art, Busan, Korea
Art Squat Project A-A-A #6, Old Factory, Busan, Korea
Art accent : zero, Bexco, Busan, Korea
2017 無籍者, Open Space Bae, Busan, Korea
Project Art Busan 2017, F1963, Busan, Korea
2019 Gachang Art Studio Residency (Daegu, Korea)
2018 Hongti Art center Residency (Busan, Korea)
Busan Museum of Art

Curator : Jaeho Shim & Aritst : Chanmi Heo


Q. You paint things that seamlessly occupy a place in the landscape around us but can easily go unnoticed if we don’t pay attention. What triggered you to use trivial things like manhole covers or grass that grows between pavements as subjects of your artistic narrative?
I was born and raised in the city, so I never really noticed the noise around us. When I saw plant pots being abandoned one by one due to reconstruction projects, I realized that cities are rather busy and chaotic. I have been using earphones with noise-cancelling features since then, and I started to perceive the city’s chaos as noise. I often felt like I was stuck in between the big downtown area and something small, and that inspired me to paint small, trivial things.


Q. Is there a point of reference you adopt in choosing the subjects you paint? Do you select things that you find visually appealing because of their shape or color, or does your selection entail an emotional approach?
I usually paint things that make us think of the near future or what comes next. A bird that briefly sits on the rock in the middle of the river, a stray cat that could move the next minute, weed that makes me wonder how tall they can grow… I draw things like these, for which I can predict or imagine what might come next.


Q. When I stand in front of Daily Walking Rehearsals, which is a series of six two-meter tall paintings, it feels like I am seeing a panoramic view. Paintings that depict large, distant views look like blurry abstract images, and objects like plant pots and cones painted on small canvases that sit over larger ones appear as though they are blown-up images. Is there a reason for such variation in a single work?
The series is based on the novelist BAK Solmay’s Daily Walking Rehearsals. The novel traces the narrative of a woman named Choi Myeonghwan in connection with the past and present historical contexts of Busan. I focused on her footsteps and painted the spaces that make up the background of the novel. Images on the large canvases are landscapes afar, seen from the rooftop of apartment buildings or high grounds in Yeongdo, and small paintings in front of the large paintings are images of the apartment residents’ household goods or what I discovered in the alleys around the neighborhood. The novel jumps back and forth between the old days of Busan and the past and the present of Choi Myeonghwan, a narrative development I adopted in my paintings as well.


Q. It’s interesting that you place a small canvas over a big one. What inspired this idea and how do you decide where and how to place the smaller canvas on the larger one?
Text in novels just flow on the page, and I wanted to create a similar experience with painting so they just pass casually. I substituted history and personal narrative to landscapes seen from afar and seen up close through someone’s eyes, and then arranged them in repeated order. The paintings were made exactly as the scenery in which the objects were originally placed.


Q. The process of being placed seems to be significant to you. You are currently spending time in Denmark, participating in a residency program. Is this part of the process of finding your place as an artist? Also, how do you want to be placed in this world as an artist?
Denmark is less populated than Korea, so relatively, there are more short buildings than tall ones. I felt that each humans, animals, nature, and all individual entities have their own territories and enough space between each other here. Since there is adequate room between them, I can observe and imagine each of their movements faithfully. I can feel that space and distance in my everyday life. I will continue to paint what I have seen and felt, as I always have, as an artist.