Dr. Kuhn Hong is Director of Nuclear Medicine at Little Company of Mary Hospital, but his physician skills are not his only talent. Dr. Kuhn Hong is an amazing artist whose work now adorns the halls of Little Company of Mary Hospital. Read more about his story, and how he came to be an artist, medical mission volunteer, and physician.
Dr. Hong has been working on the craft of art since he was a child growing up as a refugee in South Korea. We had the chance to interview him about his art, and how it plays into his mission work and work as a physician. Read the Q and A below.
What inspires you to create art?
I learned quickly that we could create something in art by observing objects, including people and scenery. We can express the feeling through the painting and tell a story by recording what’s happening. Although abstract art could be a totally different way of expression, I prefer traditional painting to be able to relate the natural setting from the real life. It does not mean recording a photographic depiction and exactly matching to the real happening. The artist could create an interesting painting even if it did not happen in real time.
When I joined my first short term medical mission trip to the Amazon River 15 years ago, I realized I could start to sketch the beautiful scenery along the tributary of the Amazon River, villages, and people living in the huts with thatched roofs with palm leaves. After so many years of not painting due to busy practice of daily life in the hospital, I was able to rekindle my desire of drawing and painting. From that time on, I made certain to carry sketchbooks and basic coloring tools with me for the following medical mission trips.
What is it like painting and drawing on mission trips?
Many people in the third world would not appreciate to be photographed. Some of them believe their soul could be taken away by flash photographs. However, drawing sketches would not be much trouble since it would not identify the person. By observing my drawing, some people would beg me to draw him/her for the next picture and even nicely pose in front of me. In spite of language barrier, I could make many friends through drawing sketches of them. Since I was there for the purpose of medical mission, taking care of patients at the makeshift clinic in a jungle or giving lectures at a university hospital, I was only able to draw sketches during a break time in busy schedules while hundreds of patients were waiting in line. Even in that limited access of drawing sessions, it is always inspiring to draw a new exotic place and friendly people in fascinating tribal costumes.
How do you select subjects or scenes that you will paint?
Since my traveling in different countries was not for leisure, but rather business trips for taking care of patients or doctors, I did not have many choices. Since I could not visit famous or well known attraction places, I compromised with wherever and whatever was available where I was working. However, I found that this gave me great opportunity to draw more natural settings of routine daily life of the native people, rather than artificial arrangements like a Hollywood studio. I worked hard to draw many sketches and constantly and ended up with few great pictures from those try outs. When I come home from the trip, I use those sketches as a backup of limited memory to produce much bigger paintings in large canvas.
How has art helped you as a physician?
When I give lectures in other countries, I may not have proper slides or books to show during presentations. Having artistic talent, I can use my impromptu illustration on the spot and the audience is very impressed and understands clearly. This also allows me to relate to the patients, especially young minors and the family members who want to know the situation of the disease they have and their treatment plan. As a matter of fact, I am a specialist of “medical imaging” and dealing with anatomy and pathology of human body.
Dr. Hong’s paintings will be featured in an upcoming Korean Cultural Center show from May 18-29 in Chicago. Dr. Hong’s paintings are for sale, and all proceeds will be used for the expense of acquiring necessary medical equipment when Dr. Hong retires from Little Company of Mary in June and begins a three-year mission trip in Ethiopia. View the art at Little Company of Mary today.