Maryland First Lady Yumi Hogan’s Paintings Blend East and West

Yumi Hogan’s massive painting “Untitled 50” (2010), which measures four by 14 feet, leaps off the wall from across the gallery. But upon closer inspection, the sumi ink painting on Korean hanji paper, displays intricate details: mountains, trees, grass, and rocks. The work somehow manages to be both large and small, bold and gentle at the same time.

That’s not unlike the artist, the first lady of Maryland and the first Korean American first lady of any U.S. state. With Maryland Governor Larry Hogan in attendance at the opening of her University of Maryland University College Arts Program exhibition, the artist noted that her husband used to lug her art to and from her exhibits. “Now he’s busy,” she said, to audience laughter.

Foreground from left: Eric Key, Governor Hogan, Yumi Hogan, Javier Miyares

“I appreciate not loading and unloading!” the governor piped up. “He was a simple guy,” the artist added. “Now I say he’s a big guy.”

So the banter went. But Hogan said she was there that evening as an artist and an immigrant, and not as a first lady. She spoke of trekking through the cold and rain, two miles each way to school, as the youngest of eight children in a poor family growing up in Korea. “We arrived so cold and so wet,” she said. But the walk passed through beautiful farmland, memories of which still inform her work today.

When Hogan moved to Maryland, she found that the landscape and the climate, with all four seasons, was similar to her native Korea. Her work often blends Maryland and Korean landscapes in a seamless marriage of East and West.

“I see two different cultures settled on canvas—Eastern culture and Western culture. That communication comes not just from the encounter of cultures. It comes from deep experience and deep thinking,” said Dong-gi Kim, minister and consul-general at the Embassy of the Republic of Korea, who attended the opening.

Korean art was introduced to the West very late, maybe 100 years ago, “But we have a very long tradition, thousands of years of tradition of valuing art. Aristocrats usually show their talent by writing poems and painting traditional landscapes and animals,” Kim said. “I’m very happy to see the tradition being welcomed in the United States.”

Hogan’s art is inspired by rapid and uncontrolled nature, according to Eric Key, director of UMUC’s Arts Program. “It’s a theme that runs through all of her work,” he said.

The wind is also a frequent subject of the artist’s work, and its unpredictable nature can bring unexpected changes, she said. Hogan cited the example of her husband getting diagnosed with cancer. “You never know.”

While spending time in the hospital with her husband, the first lady became interested in helping the many young patients, children battling cancer, that she encountered there. She has since been involved in promoting the therapeutic aspects of artmaking.

In her own art, Hogan taps into a universal language said UMUC President Javier Miyares. “Ms. Hogan’s beautiful and often ethereal works—blending childhood memories of rural Korea with more immediate images of Maryland, cherry blossoms and seascapes from the Eastern Shore—introduce a unique artistic vision,” he said. “They also underscore an important point: that art serves as a universal language and a symbol of our shared experience affirming our desire to discover and create to learn and to grow.”

Speaking at the opening, Governor Hogan said his wife is “obviously very passionate about [her art].” Getting to live daily with his wife’s painting, the governor said he has come to understand how laborious the artistic process is.

“I’m going to sound like I know more about art than I do. Sumi ink, unlike paint, drips. It doesn’t dry fast. She has to work flat and very slowly,” he said. “She had one piece rolled across our living room for months. She’ll be up, sometimes, all night painting.”

Yumi Hogan: Cultural Traditions Unbounded is on view through June 30 at UMUC’s Dorothy L. and Henry A. Rosenberg Jr. Painting Gallery in The Leroy Merritt Center for the Art of Joseph Sheppard.

Find directions here.

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