Steve Kim, a Los Angeles based, Korean Artist, creates paintings based off of his personal collection of photographs. He uses pictures because of their instant reference factor and because there is always something to "highlight" in them. Where he chooses what to paint and what to leave out.
The way Kim sees the picture? "That looks fun to paint".
Kim's work is very inspirational to me, there is a loose unfinished feel to some of his paintings. He chooses enticing color combos and his use of white helps bring out what's most important to him.
Let the narrative begin:
Beata Chrzanowska - Last semester I felt lost with where my thesis was going so the following winter break I spent all month researching and figuring out what my real passion in art was. Figures, the body, color, white space, and shape, blended together and resulting in a landscape inspired from figure drawings. These elements are the vehicles for my thirst to create. What process drove you to the kind of work you produce today?
Steve Kim - I went to Art Center for illustration and while I really enjoyed working from figures and such, and I really felt disillusioned with illustration in general. The notion of "making things up" really irritated me. Things were already so complicated when I had something to look at (a figure, a photo) to work from. How the heck was I supposed to make stuff up and do it any justice? I wasn't impressed by the visual shorthand that seemed to make up a lot of illustration. When I started working from photos I was happy because I didn't need to start from scratch and fail before I began. With a photo, I had a slice of the real world in its infinite complexity to play around with.
That said, I've never let the idea of "construction" alone, and it's something that I've been hacking away at here and there. It just takes a lot of time and effort, to build things from scratch, at least for what I have in mind. Goes to show understanding what it is that you like is not a simple thing.
Beata - I will be graduating this May and though it will be great to finally start making work on my own I am concerned about my financial stability. Time is also an issue. How do you support yourself? How do you balance a day job and the time spent creating your work, if there is a separation?
Steve - Some people like a separation between their work and their art. Like a day job that isn't too creatively demanding so there's something left in the tank for the studio. I don't really buy into that too much. I'd rather have a creative job over a tedious one. I can't say much about financial stability because I just got out of school. I love teaching to death so that's probably how I'll try to land the much sought-after "stability".
Beata - Most of my work is figurative, whether it be nudes or portraits. Still-lives and landscapes alone have never given me that same satisfaction, there wasn't enough life in them as the human form permeated. Your work is mostly based off of figures and sometimes animals, what is it that draws you to painting from people as opposed to objects and nature?
Steve - I like things that are alive because to me they are fundamentally more complex, and out of that complexity comes a certain something (beauty, I guess) that is just a lot more fun to paint than trees and landscapes (aka background--which if you've noticed I don't spend much time on) and such. You can covet, admire, envy, lust after a person. Not so much with a rock. Treehuggers would disagree but a crap load more emotions are involved with people and the animals that resemble them (not too interested in drawing insects thank you) and if I want my work to end up emotionally engaging I figure starting out with a lot of the same stuff is sound strategy.
Beata - Currently my paintings have a lot of white space that is only made more obvious through the clustering of color on the canvas. At times I feel like the white should be filled in with a color, giving the piece a more finished look. In your piece "Blue" the loose brushstrokes and linear work give the piece a level of incompleteness, yet it is a finished piece. How do you decide when your work is finished and how do you defend your level of completeness to the viewer?
Steve - Ah, the single most noobie art question ever. When do you know it's finished? There's no real answer for this sort of thing, because every artist will have their little smart answer that sounds good but sorta sounds stupid at the same time. But anyway, for me, it's about good-ness and different-ness. It ought to be sufficiently good and sufficiently different from what I've made before. If I come to a point where whatever I do, I won't really make it better so much as different, well then I'd rather start another painting.
Beata - A friend of mine did a project where he took an dirty, used tissue and tacked it up to a wall with a small typed up piece of paper stating something like "I was beaten, raped and left naked and all they left me was this tissue". It was an "artist brat" move on his part and we all hated the piece, yet we couldn't stop talking about it. So much meaning sprouted from this "piece of crap" piece. So my question is, have you ever done something similar? An "artist brat" move that you know will make people look at you and think, "Seriously?" Just so you can observe their response?
Steve - No. I just want to make something good that people will like.
Beata - I have a very small studio that I do my painting in, and once in a while I will have to turn all my current paintings around so that I don't get influenced or hindered creatively by them. Do you ever find yourself getting unintentionally influenced by your work or the work of other artists?
Steve - I turn my paintings around too. Solves a lot of problems. I'm probably most influenced by my fiance's work because I live with it and see it develop and talk about it. Aside from that I don't really pay much attention to other artist's work because frankly there isn't much that I really like. I know that sounds really stuck up but art isn't something I got into because I love it so much. It's more like world hunger. You get into it because you see problems that you think you can fix.
Beata - What kind of art do you find yourself drawn to today?
Steve - I look at mostly stuff that isn't really art, but more like illustration or design, like concept art for video games.
Beata - I first found about you through devianart.com. But recently I noticed you no longer have an account, if I am not mistaken. Why did you decide to get rid of your account and what did you move on to, if anything?
Steve - I had wanted to clean up my online presence and thought that included deviantart, which, let's be honest, is a pretty cheesy place to be. I regretted it almost immediately and started a new one at [link]
I realized that I like art communities, any art communities. If there was one for fine-art I'd be a part of that too. But there isn't. So I browse and hang out in places like deviantart, conceptart.org, cghub, etc. because that's where people actually talk about art. I guess real artists are too busy to do that sort of thing.
Beata - A teacher told me that just because you have a lot of art, doesn't mean you have to show it all. He said to show what you want people to know you for. So I started cleaning out what I had posted on deviantart to preserve the consistency. Artist's like Damien Hurst are known for doing different forms of art and yet they are well known and successful. How did you go about exposing your work? And what has worked well for you?
Steve - He has a point. But it's kinda pointless cleaning up your deviantart account because that site itself is so not consistent in the first place and really not the place you wanna link a curator or whatever to. It makes sense to have your edited work on your own website though. I show all my work online, just in different places.
Beata - I will be out of school soon and I am wondering whether in five, ten years, I will have the same passion for the figure and approach as I do for it now. Do you think there is a possibility that your future work will look different from the work you do know? Do you think you will ever get sick of working the way you do now?
Steve - I certainly hope my work looks different five years down the road. And of course I will get tired of working the way I do now. That's kind of the point. To do something fun until it's no longer interesting and finding something else. It's called progress.
Beata - Another teacher told me that if I wanted to make it big NY was the place to visit, network in, and show my work at. He said it would "change" me either in a negative or positive way. As you receive more recognition do you see the art world becoming more critical of your work or more supportive? And how do you see it influencing you as a person/artist?
Steve - I think your teacher sounds really cynical and is generalizing to a fault. Who is the person that you "would have been" anyway? Yes, networking is critical. Participating is critical. But how you go about it is up to you and as personal as how you approach your painting or anything else in your life, and there's no reason that aspect of art can't be fun and engaging. Despite myself I've found nearly every aspect of art making enjoyable, even the things I thought I hated--like the getting to know people part
As for recognition I think it's a little too early for me to be able to comment on that.
Steve Kim is currently working and living in Los Angeles.
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