“I think my painting shows mixed up memories somehow coherently in one place.”
Interview by: Issey Scott
Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? Where did you study?
I came to the UK in 2015 to study at the Slade School of Fine Art-MFA Painting and graduated in 2017. I was born in Seoul, South Korea but I have spent most of my childhood and adolescence in Daejeon which is more of a rural area. In 2007 I moved back to Seoul to study Painting at the College of Fine Art in Seoul National University and received BFA in 2011.
Before coming to the UK, I had the experience of living in other countries as well. My family stayed about a year in California, U.S. and another year in Tokyo, Japan when I was a little. The experience of living in totally new places and learning new languages can be challenging but I also think that it is quite fun to notice cultural differences that I wouldn’t have seen had I stayed in the same place all that time. Coming to London has been quite crucial for me. I think I was able to see myself from some distance, from a different cultural point of view.
What are your attitudes, or influences, regarding the relationship between man and animal? Your paintings showing wildlife in domestic settings suggest a troubled, surreal friction.
Animals in my paintings have anthropomorphic qualities. A goldfish seems like it is looking at the person through the fish tank glass, sharks are sleeping in a study room, and a black cat stares at you while lying on a document that you might need now.
I personally like animals in general. National Geographic Channel which showed wildlife was one of my favourites when I was a child. This channel was on all day. I do like to observe how they behave and imagine what they would feel.
While I grew up, I had several tiny little pets such as several goldfish, a tortoise and a hamster. For a while my family kept a huge fish tank for tropical fish. They were just all gone at some point and I wonder what happened. Did they all die? I used to think that it would be amazing if I could actually communicate with them. Although adopting a cat a few years ago was a lot different. He can sort of communicate with me and he seems to understand what I say but he would ignore me if he wants to. For me, It was a natural thing to personify the behaviour of my pets.
I still might have this attitude when I use animals in my painting. Besides, I love that they have their unique energy and presence. When they are placed in certain settings, they create some kind of tension by staring out of the canvas or just by being there.
Having exhibited your work around the world, how has temporary and long-term travelling, and inhabiting different spaces around the world, affected the way your practice deals with 'memory'?
Although the memory of my childhood is a constant drive for my painting, the memory is triggered by what I see and experience now and it is constantly interfered with by all kind of imagery I encounter every day. They do not only include my own previous, personal experiences but also include pictures and scenes from familiar movies.
Having lived and travelled in many other different places makes me long for my old hometown in South Korea. What I miss most is the time when I lived with my family in a particular house. It wouldn’t feel the same even if I could go there as my family does not live there anymore. Currently, as I am away from these familiar places, this physical distance makes me think more about what I have left behind.
I think my painting shows mixed up memories somehow coherently in one place. For example, I recall some winter landscape from some time ago and then I immediately remember some tropical trees from Hawaii. They can exist together in one picture plane in my work. In the end, you cannot really tell where the places are in my paintings.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day / studio routine? What is your studio like?
I have a studio in Hackney Wick which I share with my partner Mircea Teleaga who is also a painter. I love this new studio as it has consistent lights which are good for painting and enough space for both of us for now. But it seems to be very very cold.
I like to go to the studio early in the morning and paint until evening. The first thing I would do when I arrive in the studio is to wash my oil paint brushes left in the bucket overnight. The bucket is filled with solvent. Cleaning brushes already gives me the sense of painting which is a good start for the day.
I come up with new ideas for my painting in my studio looking through my drawings or just looking at the empty canvases. Apart from seeing good shows, going to the National Gallery and watching movies, I can say spending a major time in the studio is essential for my practice. However, if I don’t feel like working at all I just don’t go to the studio and do something else.
How do you go about naming your work?
Usually, the title comes after the work has finished. Sometimes the right title comes a year later and it happens because it can take time to realise what I actually painted.
I tend to give simple titles for my work as I do not want to overwhelm the viewers with too much information and also I do not want to force them to feel something specific about them.
I think titles that are trying to be too smart or overly conceptual can be ridiculous. I believe the title should not try to make up what is not actually inherent in the work. Generally, my titles give a bit of hint about my work. It is enough for me if they are useful when I have to call them individually.
I want the viewers to look at my actual work not the titles.
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
I went to see ‘All Too Human’ exhibition at Tate Britain recently. It was the second time and this time I went straight to see Francis Bacon’s paintings. I loved the room where ‘Study of Baboon’ and ‘Study of a dog’ were exhibited. I have never seen these paintings in real life and some of the works are completely new for me. Even if I have seen them in the books I wouldn’t recognise that they are the same pictures as the actual paintings are so much better in real life.
‘Study of Baboon’ is incredible. The brush strokes are so powerful, fresh, instinctive and also very meticulous at the same time. It is so interesting that he painted only on the back of the primed canvases which I would like to try it at some point. The untouched part of the linen was almost glowing through the black brush strokes.
I also loved ’Study of a dog’ that could look serene at the first glimpse but it still has a tension and violence. A twitching dog in the middle seems in pain and agony like it would attack a person or something. Tiny racing cars in the background and a palm tree look so indifferent to what would happen in the foreground. They are painted very effectively with minimal brush strokes which only creates more tension.
Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
I am excited about three upcoming group shows that I am invited to take part in this autumn. I am going to exhibit several fish tank paintings for a three-people group show in Glasgow, Scotland curated by Love Unlimited who will open a new permanent gallery there. Also, I will take part in “Young London Painters” at the Arthill Gallery in London and the Wells Art Contemporary Award in Wells, Somerset.
Publish date: 02/10/2018
All Images are courtesy of the artist