How K-Pop Star and Budding Mega-Collector RM Wove His Favorite Art and Artists Into His First Solo Album, ‘Indigo’
The album references artists Yun Hyong-keun and Jackson Pollock, among others.
Noted art collector and influencer RM, leader of K-pop boy band BTS, has put his passion for art center stage for his December 2 album release. Indigo, his debut solo album, leads with an artistic theme, from the album title and artwork to the physical album and its promotion, with RM discussing Korean abstract artist Yun Hyong-keun during press interviews.
“This is my own type of tribute,” RM told radio host Zach Sang in an interview. “I think there’s no one that has ever done a tribute to a Korean painter, as a K-pop artist, so I think it’s going to be really unique and fun.”
While there are artistic touches throughout the album, Yun Hyong-keun, an artist RM has called “admirable” and “his favorite,” is the clear focus. One of Yun’s paintings, Blue (1972) is in the album cover photo with RM, shot by photographer Mok Jungwook, and the first track is named after Yun. A spokesperson from HYBE, the entertainment company that represents BTS, told Artnet News that the oil painting appears courtesy of the Estate of Yun Hyong-keun and PKM Gallery, and the Charlotte Perriand stool featured in the album cover art is RM’s own.
In a “Magazine Film” expounding on Indigo’s creation and themes as part of album promotion, RM said, “There’s a painting I refer to in my first track by artist Yun Hyong-keun that came out right before his signature style. It’s a painting that’s like his last study.”
“Yun,” which features Erykah Badu, starts and ends with samples of archival recordings of the artist speaking in Korean about truth, moral goodness, beauty, rejecting greed, and the nature of humanity. It’s fitting for a song in which RM refers to Yun as his “contemporary” and adapts Yun’s own words to form lyrics like “’Cause true beauty is a true sadness / Now you could feel my madness.”
RM told Sang that the line about madness comes from a diary entry of Yun’s. After being imprisoned multiple times for political reasons and narrowly escaping execution, the artist left bright colors behind. He referred to the work he created as part of Korea’s monochromatic Dansaekhwa movement as representing his anger and his madness. “When I see his ‘madness,’ it’s really something elegant and very beautiful,” RM said, referring to Yun’s characteristic style of dark rectangles made by repeatedly layering umber and ultramarine oil on linen.
RM has a Yun painting in this style in his home, in what he told Sang is the “main position” in his living room, and another in his studio. He said, “I sometimes really have a dialogue with it, with his piece.” Imitating himself conversing with the painting, he added, “Come on, give me—give me some—give me some bravery.”
RM has previously brought his interest in the fine arts into his day job: One of his recent self-directed photo shoots, for instance, took place within and prominently featured a Lee Bae exhibit in Indang Museum in Daegu, South Korea. However, in the past, he has demurred when asked to relate art directly to his career, framing art as a salve and a reprieve, away from work. Indigo and the promotions surrounding it involve the musician bringing these two sides of himself more fully together than the public has seen up until this point.
Sharp-eyed viewers will note that the album’s promotional imagery includes vintage Pierre Jeanneret furniture as well as a couple of moon jars. Moon jars are traditional Korean pottery from the Joseon era that have inspired artists like Kim Whanki, Park Young-Sook, and Lee U-fan, and are experiencing somewhat of a revival at the moment. According to HYBE, the vintage furniture was rented as a prop.
The physical packaging for the album itself is designed to look like a brochure for a museum exhibit. BTS fans buy physical albums in large numbers, largely due to the value of what’s inside. RM has included cyanotype artwork along with more typical inserts like song lyrics and promotional photos from the shoot mentioned earlier. According to the HYBE representative, RM did not make the cyanotypes himself, though the materials used were “soil, rocks, sand, thorns, dried wildflowers and leaves, chiffon cloth, pencil, hand, tapes, etc.” The use of wildflowers is thematic, as the lead single for the album is titled “Wildflower” in English.
With Indigo‘s overall arts motif, RM has also introduced the album to fans via livestream as though it were an art exhibition. Serving as curator, he presented 10 symbolic items, one for each track, explaining how each related to the song. The song title “No. 2,” for one, is a reference to Jackson Pollock naming his first drip painting “Number 1,” besides symbolizing RM’s own “second act.”
The uptempo, funky pop song “Still Life” was, of course, inspired by the artistic term, which RM said differs from the Korean equivalent, which translates to “inanimate object.” Explaining the song’s meaning in his Magazine Film, RM returned to a common theme for him, the sense of timelessness in art: “So the artist would paint, and in a way it felt like they were trying to breathe eternal life into it. The flowers that the artist drew 100 years ago have withered and died long ago, but here, it’s still living.”
The musician related this concept of eternal life to his own fame; preservation at a price and a declaration of resistance to stagnation, in line with his intent to keep growing, per his comments about the opening song “Yun.”
“I think my life as K-pop artist RM of BTS is like being on a pedestal in a gallery. I’m always seen and people are always watching me. And I have to be aware of that,” RM said. “I’m drawn on canvas like a still life, but I won’t stop and will constantly transform. So I’m a still life, but I won’t stop moving.”
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