The Soundtrack to Painter Seonna Hong’s Dream Worlds
Hrishikesh Hirway is the Los Angeles composer and musician behind the podcast Song Exploder (which can also be found at WIRED). In a new series, Imaginary Soundtracks, he’ll speak to notable creators—writers, filmmakers, and artists—about the music that, in their minds, goes along with their work.
Los Angeles artist Seonna Hong paints fantastical landscapes, on canvas, and in the pages of books. The scenes are often navigated by a young girl, a stand-in for Hong herself. Her newest solo show is called “If You Lived Here, I’d Be Home by Now,” and is currently on display at Jonathan LeVine Gallery in New York. I asked her to come up with an imaginary soundtrack to go with the work, but it turned out, she already had a soundtrack in place: There were specific songs that had served as inspiration for specific paintings.
Where does the show’s name come from?
“If You Lived Here, I’d Be Home by Now” is a play on the architectural planned home communities that say “if you lived here, you’d be home by now,” but for me, it’s about connection and, at the heart of it, a “home is where the heart is” kind of thing. Having connection with people, or someone in particular, and feeling like that place is home once you find that.
When I’m putting a show together, music is a huge part of what inspires me. It has an indelible impact and imprint on me. I can hear a song and completely go back to a specific time in my life, and not just the memory of it, but I can remember how I felt then. Or a certain relationship.
Come Undone is named for an Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan song. That song is, to me, about when a connection maybe sometimes is so strong that it kind of wrecks you a little bit. Because it’s rare when that connection happens. The times I have experienced that, it’s been pretty knee-wobbling. [Laughs.]
Are there other paintings named after specific songs?
That’s Us/Wild Combination is named after the song by Arthur Russell. I’m that annoying person that you’re driving with that will play a song over and over and over again in the car. I will hit repeat. Or a particular album, especially if it means something to me. This was a song somebody sent to me, and then listening to it, it just has a really big impact. When people exchange music, it says a lot about a person.
What about paintings that don’t get their names from songs?
PJ Harvey, “It’s You.” [Wonder Twin] isn’t named for that song, but that song has a lot of meaning for me. This time, I was affected by the music before the lyrics. It’s got this low feeling. It just feels like when you’re consumed by someone. I’ve only played this song for one person.
Has a song ever directly influenced the look of one of your paintings?
“Our Way to Fall” by Yo La Tengo. I love that song. [The Way We Fall] was probably the most direct from the song interpretation for the painting, because I just straight-up love part of the lyrics, and wanted to put them into a painting. Again, this idea of a connection, and that even if its fleeting or just a teeny piece of it, just acknowledging it and capturing it and appreciating it.
What about music’s influence on the feeling of a piece?
“Limit to Your Love” by James Blake (Feist cover). This is about those things that you crave in a relationship that you wish a person would give you and sometimes would give you if they could. But also the limitations in myself, and sometimes how I have to compartmentalize. In [Map with No Ocean] the girl is sort of corralled in, and for me, in my life right now, I’m looking for wide open spaces.
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