When did you first discover that you wanted to be an artist?
I wasn’t really born to be that outgoing. Even when I was little, I really enjoyed my time alone. I enjoyed sitting and working on something that didn’t require me to move a lot. So, I naturally leaned toward drawing and calligraphy. I enrolled in an art academy really early, when I was four or five, and eventually went to a fine arts school in Korea, before travelling to the UK and New York.
Let’s talk more about that, how was your experience at art school?
My undergraduate university in Seoul was for women, and it really focused on conceptual art—particularly on installation work. I tried many different things, but found myself most comfortable in painting. As most artists, I started with representational work, shapes and figures, but I gradually found myself exploring abstract painting. Despite what most people think, abstract work requires a lot of skill—you have to understand composition, how to use your stroke, and things like that. It’s not just putting yourself in your work. It’s also technical and detail-oriented. My work may seem like it just uses my body’s gestures, but even the smallest lines have small technical details to them, little edits I add afterwards.
And has your travels affected your perspective or understanding of art at all, in terms of being an international artist and being exposed to the different styles from around the world?
As I travelled, I never felt like I had to represent or have a “Korean” mind. It was just who I am. Looking back, I’ve never felt like I’ve had to adapt or change who I am according to where I am. Sure, it’s a new place, but I’m still doing the work. I was doing it before, so I’ll just do it again! It wasn’t a comfortable process, but I was okay with being uncomfortable in the process. I grew up in the South part of Korea, so even moving to Seoul as a college student felt like I was starting something, like I was coming as a stranger. Travelling to the UK, my first big hurdle was language. I learned English in the UK, and tried to learn German in Germany, but found myself able to communicate through my work. The thing with a different language is… sometimes you don’t understand what they say, but you can feel what that language feels like. The same could be said about my work.
It seems to me like you get a lot of inspiration from abstract expressionism; true?
I was introduced to the abstract expressionists in the first part of my college years, and I really didn’t have any idea of who they were before that. South Koreans artists go to art school with a really set aesthetic in mind—based on skill and representation. Then you go to college, and all of a sudden, you are introduced to so many different things. I fell in love with the work of Mark Rothko and Helen Frankenthaler. I admired how they didn’t feel the need to explain their work—it wasn’t about color, or shape, or size—it was about being yourself. Even if my work looks a certain way of style, it’s about being comfortable with you are, and moving away from what people think about me, and what they are saying about my work. It’s about the idea of true nature.
I read this text from a Buddhist monk, and it talked about the idea of intention. At the beginning, you should always remember what your intention is, and then the body-mind eventually makes sense of it, and you don’t even have to intend! Then, and only then, you can comfortably see yourself. I feel like that is what my work is doing. My work helps me achieve a personal sense of Zen, and a deeper understanding of what that means to me.
So in terms of your creative process, when you’re actually making your artworks; do you just go with the flow according to this philosophy?
When I start a piece, it’s usually inspired by a pattern or color combination, sometimes from my environment, or sometimes from something birthed inside me. It’s something that catches my attention, sometimes I didn’t feel before. Sometimes, it’s political—something going on can trigger an image. I think that, as human beings, we should have some anger when we need it. Politics can spark something, make me feel something, and I try to translate it in my work. I have always felt a connection to lines and gestures—these were things I could relate to. Every one of my series of paintings tries to explore the, the gesture, in a different way. People are always surprised that I’m still working with lines. “Really, after all these years?” But there’s so much you can do with lines. It’s just another material, like oil can be to paintings.
As the creator and artist, would you say that emotional edge is something inherently present in all your works?
What if we say it’s more about intuition? Over the last 300 years, logic and rational thought has explained a lot of our decisions. But before that, all the things we couldn’t quite explain, we would understand them in a different way. We would just know them. There are things you know, but they tend to be hidden or disguised by the way you grow up or the things you are taught. It’s a part of yourself that you’ve been neglecting. I hope my work can awaken something in that.
Do you feel like your work has evolved over the years?
I never thought about the trajectory of my work, until I had the chance to see my work from 2011 and 2012. A big thing that’s changed and evolved is how I treat the lines and gestures on the canvas. Before, lines would exist on the canvas independently. Today, I let certain lines expand towards the outer edges of the canvas, and, unconsciously, I follow the gestures more, with a constant feeling of expansion, believing they are going somewhere. Intuition has become a major part of my work and process.
When people see your work, what effect do you hope your art has on them?
I hope that my work is totally open to any viewer perspective. If they see shapes, figures, and bodies, that’s totally fine with me. At the same time, I don’t want people to try and find some secret meaning in my work. If someone sees something or feels something, it says more about them than the work—it’s something they are already carrying inside. Hopefully, my work can help open the door to their true nature!
Born 1980 in Ulsan, South Korea. Lives and works in New York, NY
2009 MFA Pratt Institute NY USA
2007 MA Nottingham Trent University UK
2003 BFA Seoul Women’s University South Korea
2017 Vantage Point, Lobby Gallery, New York, NY
Before Mind, ChaShaMa Space, New York, NY
2015 IN BETWEEN, Gallery Pirang, Heyri, South Korea
IN BETWEEN, Gallery Space Sun Plus, Seoul, South Korea
2014 IN BETWEEN, Gallery IMAZOO, Seoul, South Korea
2012 Dialogue of Silence, Yashar Gallery, New York, NY
2011 Dialogue of Silence, Gallery M, Vienna, Austria
Dialogue of Silence, Amos Eno Gallery, New York, NY
2010 Dialogue of Silence, Pop Art Factory, Seoul, South Korea
Dialogue of Silence, Chelsea West Gallery, New York, NY
2009 MFA Thesis Show, Pratt Institute Steuben South Gallery, New York, NY
2005 Seeking, Galerie Gaia, Seoul, South Korea
2017 Bushwick Invitational, Art Helix, New York, NY
Making Connections, The Plaxall Gallery, New York, NY
The Other Art Fair, Brooklyn EXPO Center, New York, NY
Design Art Fair, Seoul Art Center, Seoul, South Korea
2016 Wish You Were Here 15, A.I.R Gallery, New York, NY
61st Changjak, Seoul Art Center, Seoul, South Korea
2015 Art Canvas Project, Gallery41, Seoul, South Korea
Art Canvas Project, Gallerie Kunst Direkt, Regensburg, Germany
Sewol Ferry First Anniversary Commemorative Exhibition, Ansan Cultural Art Center, Seoul, South Korea
Objects standing in between (The Gift), Gallery Space Sun Plus, Seoul, South Korea
2012 Movement of Passion, Peter Louis Space, New York, NY
2011 You Can Have Your Void And Eat It Too, Two Moon Gallery, New York, NY
AHL Foundation’s 2nd Silent Auction, The Space on White, New York, NY
Lucid Dreaming, Tompkins Square Gallery, New York, NY
Pop Up Art Show, Intermix Gallery, New York, NY
Art Beijing Art Fair, Gallery M, Beijing, China
Better by The Dozen, Beacon Artist Union, Beacon, NY
In Vivid Color, Euro Asian Art Center, Vienna, Austria
2010 Crossroads - Seven Acts, Amos Eno Gallery, New York, NY
Unwind, Lana Santorelli Gallery, New York, NY
Media Mix, Bancroft Gallery, Boston, MA
Image Attitude Impression, Union Street Gallery, Chicago, IL
2009 Generations7, A.I.R Gallery, New York, NY
Not Big, Logsdon 1909 Gallery, Chicago, IL
Unbound, The Art Center - Highland Park, IL
20/20, Artspace MAGQ - Miami, FL
New Directions, Barrett Art Center, Poughkeepsie, NY
6th Annual International Juried Exhibition, The Shore Institute of Contemporary Arts - Long Branch, NJ
2008 MFA Show, Pratt Institute Steuben South Gallery, New York, NY
2006 100+, Bonington Building, Nottingham, UK
Itemised, Surface Gallery, Nottingham, UK
2005 ANDARMJEON, Yemun Gallery, Seoul, South Korea
2004 White_Black, Gallery Ant Square, Seoul, South Korea
2003 Images of Small Quotation Marks, Gallery Al, Seoul, South Korea