Cover South Korean painter Wonhee “Whee”Delgado with her unfinished painting, Gems (2021)

South Korean painter Wonhee “Whee” Delgado finds an artistic niche for her riveting work

There’s something to be said about the boldness of Wonhee “Whee” Delgado’s paintings. A glimpse through her portfolio reveals loads of dynamism: bold strokes, vibrant colours and countless elements all stirring for attention.

“I like the colour red,” Delgado once said. “Red is a very strong colour and it connotes various meanings. It could have something to do with blood or red roses.” In fact, the artist’s own interpretation—of colours, of themes and of elements—has resulted in a fantastic oeuvre that is abstract yet meaningful. “For viewers, the ambiguity [affords] a different perception [even just by] looking at the same thing,” she said.

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Delgado, who began painting at a young age, first studied art at the Rhode Island School of Design. Since then, she’s gone on to hone her craft at Seoul National University before emigrating to Manila following her marriage to Rashid Delgado.

Though her exhibits have mostly been held in Seoul, she now finds herself thrust into the Manila art scene. “I am in the process of familiarising myself with the audience in Manila,” she admits. “[But] in my mind’s eye, I see myself practicing art in my studios in Manila and in Seoul, bridging differences through the universal language of art.”

There’s very little room in Delgado’s work, after all, for any people-pleasing. Her paintings show a streak of defiance and emotion, one that is unapologetically her. In her 2018 Earth Painting (How We Forget to Appreciate), there are shadows of people in mid-scream, and just below them, shapes of animal relics. Other paintings show bodies, naked and vulnerable, alongside food and flowers. Though it may confuse some viewers, it is simply the artist’s creative process at work. “My ideas start to be activated as I am shuffling through images,” she explains. “As I do so, I collect the ones that question or connote expanded meanings other than what may be on the surface. Then, I write down notes about my thoughts. Through my images of collecting, reflecting and brainstorming, a theme emerges to become the foundation for my work.” 

One of Delgado’s most renowned themes is her perception of food and bodies. “Creating works related to images of food and body started around the time I was preparing for my first public show in 2011,” she says. “I was fascinated with the juxtaposition and analogy of food and bodies because they [both] represent human desire. I was intrigued by how food and bodies were [perceived] in an erotic manner, yet depicted in a grotesque and distasteful way.

In her 2021 painting Undecided, bodies intertwine alongside images of corn and kiwis. It’s a playful and somewhat literal depiction of “food porn”, one that can
be interpreted in a variety of ways. In the painting Juju Eyeballs (2021), she juxtaposes the image of a woman next to a slice of cherry pie, a horsehead figure, a hand of bananas and the bust of a Roman figure. All these elements intermingle to create a comprehensive picture of colour, form and meaning. “I like to play with visual images and arrange them in a way that permeates our minds and forces us to interpret things beyond the range of how we would normally understand those matters,” she shares.

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Like most artists, Delgado finds herself naturally drawn to the images she portrays. Of course, that doesn’t exempt her from the occasional creative hurdle. Fortunately, she seems to be doing quite well—so much so that Metro Manila critics and artists have embraced her wholeheartedly, if not for her work, then for the spirit emblazoned on her canvas.

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This story was originally published on Tatler Philippines' October 2021 issue. Download it on Magzter for free.

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