Sung Hwa Kim
I'm thrilled to share the work of Sung Hwa Kim, who was born in South Korea, and is currently based in Brooklyn after earning his MFA at Maryland Institute College of Art in 2012. I absolutely love the way he incorporates diverse materials into sculptures, installations, and 2-dimensional works that explore ideas relating to the urban environment, the dual nature of interior and exterior space, and Korean culture. Much more at the links below!
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First, can you introduce yourself? What first interested you in making art?
I was born in Seoul, South Korea. I moved to the United States when I was fifteen and since then I've mainly been wandering around the East Coast. Now I'm currently based in Brooklyn, NY.
I have thought about this question many times; what got me into art? I never drew or painted growing up, and I wasn’t known for having any extraordinary artistic talent as a child.
More than anything I remember getting F's from most of my classes, including art. I guess it was the day I went to MoMA for a high school field trip. I stood in front of this large scale vibrant orange painting. Something hit me and I couldn't leave the room. I didn't talk to anyone, or walk through the remaining exhibit. I wasn't next to the painting taking pictures like the rest of my classmates; I had to step back from the work to give it space. At the time, I didn't understand why or what I was looking at. All I knew was that it made me want to do something the next day. I was sixteen when I began to paint. I owe Mark Rothko for that.
What has your art education been like, formally or informally?
I studied in Boston for my BFA, where I was trained as a traditional figurative painter and lived there for about six years. Then I moved to Baltimore to study with Joan Waltemath, who became my mentor. She changed my perception not only in art, but in life. She taught me what it means to be an artist, and how to keep a healthy distance from the studio, helping me come to the realization that art is only part of life.
You describe your work as "romantic" in the sense that it counters a common sense of irony in contemporary art. Can you tell me a bit about more about this, and your practice?
With our current social, economic, and political landscape, art became more about the market and business. We have witnessed art serving many purposes in different contexts, but the current system itself is concentrated so much on the public image, sales, career, status etc. It's difficult to navigate the real role of art in our society today. Of course I'm not saying all art is about that, there are many artists who focus on the creative process and their individualities; but based on the current landscape of the market, it creates this irony that contemporary art is a hobby of the wealthy, and it shapes what's being made and what's getting put out there to be seen, when I believe that art is for different purposes.
Art is supposed to capture the truth of the human condition, and be the passage for diverse perspectives. In order to do that, I have this urge to go back to the basic fundamental aspect of art, which is emotive driven work that contains the passion of creation. I have to admit that I'm not sure if I'm capable of fully articulating this thought whether verbally or if it's coming through in my work right now. I just hope that this process will reveal the most vulnerable yet authentic acts that potentially reflect the current condition. It's an ongoing research of self-questioning.
What is the thing that intrigues you or challenges you the most about the media you work in, or the ideas related to it?
For me the most difficult part is actually producing work that is psychically existing. Without questioning its own being, I have this fear of going into a systematic process of creating work that repeats itself. So whenever I get comfortable with certain techniques I stop and try to find a different approach to express my ideas. For an example, the main reason I let go of paint and the brush was that no matter what my intentions were, there are certain things that your body remembers. It recreates similar images and colors over and over again. After exploring different ways of execution, I ended up with fabric dye and the removing process. I enjoy this process because it leaves a room for accidents to occur, which gives possibilities for something to happen and create imagery that I haven't seen or experienced.
What is your process like?
Walking into my studio is like entering into my own mind. On a daily basis, our consciousness perceives uncountable external influences, giving us constant information that affects our internal being. Sometimes it's stressful to even carry that sort of energy into the studio, so before I get to start anything, I play around a lot just for fun. I set up a situational proposition by placing ready-made and found objects in my studio without making any sort of conscious aesthetic decisions. Just so my brain and mind to warm up a little before get to work.
Lately though, my process has been consistent. I usually start with the 'title' of the piece. Ever since I stopped incorporating text within the work, I use it as the title of the piece which becomes somewhat like an anchor. Usually I look for this text from films, music, literature; anything where the subject focuses on romance. I find it interesting that one of the most talked about subjects in any sort of media is romance, but I can't think of any contemporary artist that talks about the most basic needs. Maybe it's not serious or important enough to fulfill the standard of 'high art', I don't know. So I think of it as I'm just a dude making romantic comedy work in the genre of visual art.
I personally don't know when the work is finished. Same goes for whether I can tell if work is good or bad. It's like abandoning the piece more than finishing it. I think that in the end it's the audience who finishes the work.
What do you do when a piece isn't "working?"
As cliché as it sounds, I try to listen to it, haha. I see this process as having a conversation or debate with a friend. In the end, what we have left is a physical object that tells us what kind of conversation we had. The work itself has life of its own, it has its own desire and will to be what it wants to be. I realize it's not something I personally can dictate or take control of, so I learn to live with it. Just trying to be patient and wait around until it's ready to talk again.
What is your studio like currently?
What do you consider to be the most challenging part of pursuing an artistic practice, whether creatively or professionally?
You've probably heard this many times, and I hate to say it again, but on a practical level, the sad reality is that to be an artist today you need a stable income and time. But don't get me wrong, I understand that isn't essential for art, it's a part of living. I don't want that to be an excuse for anybody to stop creating, especially myself. What we tend to forget sometimes is that how privileged we are; to be able to think freely for ourselves and express our own viewpoints. It will be a constant battle but I think it's something worth fighting for.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice that someone has given you, who/which has changed the way you approach your work?
'You need to find your own god'
A friend of my mentor visited my studio, his name is Edgar Heap of Birds. At first I wasn't thrilled about anything he had to say because I couldn't relate to it. A few days passed by, and something he said just hit me. That's been haunting ever since and I'm still trying to figure out what that meant every time I walk into my studio.
What do you need most, or value most, as an artist?
A friend who I could grab a beer or two with and just talk through shit, haha. Really though, I do value the communal aspect of art. I'm concerned with our culture of fear that is filled with anxieties that lead to segregations. I still believe that art can narrow the gap between all of us and function as a vehicle to reach out to a broader community.
What are you working on right now? Any upcoming exhibitions or projects?
Currently, I'm working on a new body of work but nothing concrete yet.
Anything else you would like to add?
I just want to say thank you Kate!!
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