The sport had not yet caught on there. But when the skate boom hit Seoul in the late 90s, he discovered a like-minded posse that shared his rolling affinity for consuming street culture at large.
‘When I first saw someone do an ollie, I started to focus on learning specific tricks,’ he admits. It wasn’t just the physicality and sense of personal freedom that drew him to the sport, but also the aesthetic and lifestyle surrounding it: ‘I loved the illustrations, the logos and all the graphics on the skate decks, especially those of Alien Workshop, World Industries and Zero at that time,’ Yoonhyup recalls.
This collective of young street evangelists began to produce their own group shows combining art, music and skate in a city experiencing a creative renaissance.
It wasn’t long before Yoonhyup combined his penchant for mobility with a passion for painting and design.
One of his trademarks, and a recurring theme throughout his work, is the cloud motif, which he sees as an important god figure in traditional Asian culture. ‘I’m fascinated to see how clouds, which don’t have actual shapes or clear lines, were drawn by my ancestors,’ Yoonhyup comments.
‘Clouds are something that everyone can see, that everyone can find inspiration in – and for me, they represent an important passageway to the imagination.’
Yoonhyup also employs the Obangsaek concept, which breaks down in Korean as ‘obang’, meaning five directions, and ‘saek’, meaning colour. Obangsaek is widely used in traditional society and on everyday items, and each color has its own direction and meaning. But Yoonhyup’s work is rooted in cubism. ‘Cubism motivated me to see and describe objects in an abstract rather than realistic way for the first time,’ he notes. ‘It made me realise that there doesn’t have to be a correct model to represent something. It’s more about what you see as an individual, and how that helps you interpret the world.’
As an artist, Yoonhyup’s résumé boasts collaborations with major brands, including Nike, Tommy Hilfiger and Rag & Bone. He has produced instore installations and covered surfaces as varied as exterior walls, skate decks, surfboards, sculptures, columns, concrete floors and even ceilings with his work. His wife, Dohee Kim, is a motion graphic designer and the two often collaborate to create ‘moving art’ together.
Yoonhyup’s latest project with Nike – a recently launched 19,375 sq ft Gangnam district flagship store in Seoul and the largest sports-brand store in South Korea – is a two-part tribute to basketball titan Michael Jordan and some of Korea’s most revered soccer legends, including Ji-sung Park. For his mural ‘Number 23’, Yoonhyup captured the synergy between athlete and technology that the Jordan line has come to represent since its 1985 inception.
His patterned montages reference Jordan footwear innovations, his iconic number 23, and traditional Korean painting motifs. For ‘Our Heroes’, Yoonhyup created a dramatic soccer mural showcasing the Korean national team on their historic journey to the World Cup semifinals in 2002, led by Ji-sung – it was the first Asian team to advance to that stage in the history of the tournament – a milestone that paved the way for his successors Chung-yong Lee and Sung-yueng Ki.
‘Creating the installation was an intense process,’ Yoonhyup acknowledges, ‘the store is massive and has three stories to cover. But my wife and I – she was also involved – enjoyed working with the staff at Nike, and it was good to have a project realised in my hometown.’ Yoonhyup described the Gangnam neighbourhood as a thriving crossroads of art, commerce, high life and street life. ‘It’s like SoHo with Times Square added in,’ he said. ‘The place is filled with skyscrapers, shops, restaurants, bars and clubs. It’s a focal point that connects Seoul with other cities. And it’s where I came of age as a teenager before I moved to New York.’
While he calls New York his current pied-à-terre, Yoonhyup still actively keeps tabs on his mother port. ‘Seoul is ever changing. It’s a place that adopts new technology very rapidly so that motivates me to keep up with the developing culture there.’ He claims that his newly christened home is equally on the move.
‘New York moves so quickly, but I still see this focus on preserving heritage and culture, and to me that reflects the importance of keeping one’s originality, of keeping one’s soul.’
Yoonhyup admits that he continues to draw inspiration from skateboarding, cloud chasing and translating and transcribing his various environments, much as he did as a child. ‘My dream, I would say, is to visit the world and inspire and get inspired by those I meet along the way,’ he confides. ‘Hopefully one day I can master my own visual language, and leave traces of it for people to find.’