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Exhibition visit: Leonard Johansson — Confessions of an Opium Eater, at Hanmi Gallery

Opium Den

Hanmi Gallery’s latest exhibition – on for a month, which is twice as long as most of their previous shows – features Leonard Johansson, who is based is London and of Swedish and Korean parents. Johansson takes his inspiration from Thomas De Quincey’s account of his quest for heightened experiences through substance abuse.


In the basement of the gallery is an installation which is part opium den, part shrine. On a low table is collection of paraphernalia including the signs of some of the ways to perceive different realities (and the meerkats on the table are possibly an indication of the resulting altered mental state), and the table seems to be set in front of an altarpiece which adorned by the logo for Marshall amplifiers.

Leonard Johansson: Marshall Half Cab (2014)

The rock theme is a recurring one in the exhibition: on the ground floor in the window is the shell of a Marshall amp clad in leopardskin print, while on the second floor is a colourful oil containing the Marshall logo four times. The rock culture elements integrate well with the opium eating theme – the collective euphoria of the audience at a concert (and veneration of the idols, and amplifiers) is another form of heightened mental state.

Leonard Johansson: Smut Lords (2014)

And if you are looking for the third member of the symbiotic trio (sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll), look no further than Smut King and Smut Lords, characters who try every sort of experience in search of pleasure.

Leonard Johansson: Opium Eater III (2014)
Leonard Johansson: Opium Eater III (2014) Oil on canvas, 61 x 61 cm

Returning to the title of the exhibition and its literary inspiration, dotted around the show are portraits of people wearing carnival masks or with their faces obscured as if by the horizontal lines that sometimes appear when you pause a VHS video. Confessions of an English Opium Eater, whose audiobook is playing as a background soundtrack to the opium den installation in the basement of the gallery, refers to many high-up establishment figures who share the author’s addiction – but all those figures remain anonymous. The masked portraits remind us that not much is different today.

The exhibition is full of psychedelia, and blends street art with rock culture and many other influences including the occult. From the opium den in the basement to the inverted cross on the top floor, you are assailed with alternative subcultures which are not always below the surface of modern life.

Confessions of an Opium Eater is at Hanmi Gallery until 27 April

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