These questions relate to Kim Hyun-Jung’s career and view on fine art and her artworks.
1. What’s the most important thing to know about Kim Hyun Jung?
My experience as an actor. My life as a Catholic. Wisdom from my relationship with my family. My volunteer work. My student life overseas. My encounters with other cultures through my travels. Psychology consultation which I started to study after I became a grown adult and meeting my inner-child in the process.
2. What influence does being based in South Korea have on your work?
I think everyone is subject to restrictions of time and space. I have never stopped thinking about the many problems in Korea, my home country where I live. For example, the recent candlelight protests.
21st century art in Korea has lost much of its outstanding traditions. I started to rethink traditional Korean culture during my studies overseas and my travels. Koreans find my use of traditional eastern techniques to be unfamiliar and new. However most of the techniques I use were drawing techniques used by Korean artists in the 19th century. This shows how much have been thoroughly forgotten and dismissed. I think I am a pioneer in newly restoring traditional Korean drawing techniques to go along with the current era. I continuously refer to the arts and culture of east and west with my foundations in traditional Korean drawing techniques, and I try to create drawings according to the needs of people.
3. It happens to the best of us -what do you do to overcome a creative block?
Yes, I certainly fall into slumps every now and then. However my methods in overcoming those moments are different according to the symptoms and depth. I was not so wise when I was actively working as an actor. I was too emotional. Now, I try to listen to my inner voice. I take unplanned trips or I suddenly leave to seek places which may be re-stimulate me. Recently I felt my mind and body had stiffened because of the emptiness and overwork that came after finishing my creative work, and I was using excessively heavy colors as a result. I put down my brush and I went to a nursing home for the elderly. The home was surrounded by mountains and I could feel the freshness of spring. I was deeply moved by the spirituality of the grandmothers and their actions to help others. Its not quite easy to describe the energy and the strength and courage to live that I received.
4. Talk us through your design and making process from initial inspiration to final product.
Generally I draw my inner-child ‘Lala’ and drawings with insects in them alternatively. Whenever I face big or small conflicts in life I try to think how ‘Lala’ would have dealt with the situation and I start to sketch. As I sketch and I look at how adorable and lovely she is, I feel that everything will be okay. Moments like that I realize that the difficulties I face are not mine alone and I want to talk with people through my drawings. I think of the concept of my work and I get the necessary colors and materials. These would be silk for paintings, darkblue paper, traditional paper, pigments, brushes and so on. I usually use top grade materials for oriental paintings from China, Taiwan and Japan. When I draw on silk I use the hwaju-subo (画主绣补) or ssangcheung technique (雙層畫法) that I developed. When I draw on darkblue paper I use pure gold powder as my signature. Lastly, is the collaboration with the mounter. Drawings on silk must go through a complex process and I order the finest frames. I also take pictures of my work in the process of mounting.
5. How does working on a portrait such as the one you’ve done of actress Jang Seo-Hee differ from your normal process?
When I draw portraits, I try my best to express the distinguishing characteristics of the subjects. For actress Jang Seo-hee I tried to highlight her surreal beauty. The most important part of drawing portraits is the precise comprehension of the subjects to be drawn. I do interviews with the subjects who want their portraits drawn and I supplement and modify the characteristics in the process. Its similar to how actors analyse the characters they play.
6. Psychedelic bunnies (Lala) have been missing from fine art for far too long- where do your ideas come from?
‘Lala’ is the personification of my inner child. When my psychotherapist asked me about my childhood I accidently discovered that I had no memories of playing with dolls. I felt this was strange. ‘Why?’ I asked myself. I clearly remembered the dolls that were in my house. As I traced back my memories I recollected that I had to give up dolls for my younger sister who was two years younger than me. My therapist suggested that I “give a doll as a gift to my young inner child”. I went to a doll store to do my ‘homework’ for my next therapy session. Its there I came face to face with a rabbit doll with droopy ears among a chaotic pile of dolls on display. I took that doll home and named it ‘Lala’ and I kept it by my side when I drew. Gradually Lala became me and soon appeared in my work. A veteran art historian in China said he had never seen this kind of work before. He said, “The expression in drawing of psychotherapy, a western learning, as a western rabbit doll is similar to the traditional literary artist style of the east where the spirit of the artist is projected on rocks and plants.
7. Postmodernism plays a huge part in your work, taking that to one side, what else typifies the aesthetic of your work?
Looking at the themes of my work I would say that it is close to ‘neoclassicism’, in techniques to ‘neorealism’. But most of the times I draw the abstract or simplified images of my subjects through my own kind of esthetic methods.
8. Your artworks have garnered some heavy exposure against your day job as an actress- share with us what would an average day involves for you?
I was lucky enough to gain popularity through the drama ‘My lovely Sam Soon’. These days I am a regular on a TV talkshow as an actor, painter and artist. I recommend a film every week and I introduce art work of the east and west that goes with the theme. I also talk about my experiences as a painter and actor. I take about three days to research art history for this program, and I also interview my fellow actors or painters. Besides this filming for TV broadcast I draw in my work studio. In between times I travel in Korea or overseas, and I attend film previews.
9. How would you like to be remembered?
I would like to be remembered as a painter who loved herself as well as a painter who drew paintings that consoled and gave comfort to others.
10. Lala (the small rabbit that represents your inner child) has been showcased in vast exhibitions. Where is Lala disembarking next?
After my exhibition at the Today Art Museum in Beijing, I lived in Bejing for about 15 months. I studied Chinese at a university and I visited museums, art galleries and art auctions and saw many works of art. In 2016 I held calligraphy exhibitions in China and Korea, and then I returned to Korea to hold my solo exhibition.
In Feburary 2018 I am planning to a permanent exhibition at the Kyung Woon Museum in Gangnam, Seoul under the theme ‘Paintings enjoyed with tea bowls’. My drawings of Lala and insects that go along with old antique tea bowls will be exhibited.
11. You recently took part in an exhibition with Lee Wol Chong, how did that unfold?
In Februay 2014, I participated in an exhibition commemorating the establishment of the Segye Ilbo (Korean newspaper company) titled ‘Three Travelers Together’ with Lee Wol Chong. That led to my participation in the Today Museum exhibition when I was designated as one of three artists representing Korean art together with Lee Wol Chong and the late Nam June Paik. I did two exhibitions with Lee Wol Chong.
12. Which designers and/or artists have been influential to you over the years
I have learnt a lot from Qi Bashi and Li Keran, masters of chinese painting. I want to fulfill the their theory and spirit of art. Their teachings such as ‘Learn traditions but be sure to take only half of what you learn and throw away the other half’ and ‘Do not draw according to the shape of the drawing but according to the spirit’ have influenced me very much.
13. An impressive collection of etchings and artwork have been amassed. Do you ever rate other artists with their successes in collaboration?
There are three important things that I think of when I do collaborative work. Firstly, I think whether or not my collaborative partner is one who may maximize the effects of my exhibition. Second, if I am able to fully identify with and express the strengths of my collaborative partner and lastly if the result of our collaborative work can echo strongly with the people who see our work.