There’s a quote by Jackson Pollock that has really stuck with me over the last ten years. “If people would just look at the paintings, I don’t think they would have any trouble enjoying them. It’s like looking at a bed of flowers, you don’t tear your hair out over what it means.” It’s a helpful reminder to not overthink art, and to allow it to resonate with you. Not everything has to have some sort of specific, intended meaning. Oh, you can say it’s the combination of colors or throw around a few art terms you’ve overheard about composition, but sometimes, you just dig it and you shouldn’t feel compelled to justify or explain why. And such is the case with our interview today from Erin Heath Kim. She’s an artist from the US who creates striking, funky paintings such as these below.
I saw these paintings at the GIC Synergy event back in February, and was lucky enough to recently connect with her to learn more about her background and how her art comes to fruition.
How did you first start creating art?
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t known as the ‘arty’ one in my family. I even won a few Scholastic Key awards in school. I had excellent resources and great art teachers. I was lucky that my schools had well-developed art programs. I took art all through school. Then as a university freshman, I majored in Fine Art. This was well before computer graphics were a thing. My style at that time was photo realistic drawings and paintings. Then my dad convinced me to pursue another major, and I sort of left that behind, but always continued to do artistic or crafty things on my own. Years later, I decided that computer art was something I wanted to know how to do, so I went back to get my Art degree at night school. I learned so much about graphic design. You could say now that my art is a melding of fine and graphic art. I focus on the details, but hand paint them in a 2 dimensional graphic style.
What is your creative process?
My creative process starts with an idea. These days I mostly paint animal art, so after I decide on my subject, I scour the internet looking for photos. I usually go to sites that showcase high definition, detailed photos taken by animal photographers. Detailed photos of animals show so many of the small textures and colors that we don’t notice at first glance. When I find the perfect photo, which can take a long time, I either project the image or trace the outlines that I want to use. Once I’ve created the lines, it’s just a matter of adding the paint.
What are your preferred mediums?
Before I came to Korea, my art was mostly painted on flat large and medium sized wood surfaces from reclaimed thrift store finds or old cabinetry. But obviously, that’s not practical for life in Korea. We often live in tiny houses with no storage space, not to mention wood is a high dollar commodity. So I started painting on paper again for the first time in almost a decade! I use thick watercolor paper. The paints that I have always preferred are acrylics because they dry faster and give a flatter image than oils.
What are your philosophies to art?
I don’t know that I have a well-thought out philosophy to art. I love colors and details. So in general, regardless of the medium, these are the two things that draw me the most. I’m certainly not an art elitist. In fact, I prefer low-brow art in many cases to high art depending on the artist.
Do you aim to make any sort of statements?
There is absolutely no statement to my art other than: I like this. I hope you like it too.
What inspires you?
Animals and nature are my first inspiration. Other artists also inspire me. One of my greatest inspirations is an artist called Walter Anderson. He is famous in Mississippi (where I come from) for his animal and nature watercolors and art prints. Another of my greatest inspirations of fine art is Eyvind Earle who paints incredible landscapes (and did all the backgrounds for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty). I’m also definitely inspired by the late 90’s-2000’s Cartoon Network revolution that Genndy Tartakovsky was a part of like the Powerpuff Girls and Samurai Jack. There are other artists from that era that make colorful, graphic illustrations like Michael Economy and Kirsten Ulve.
What was your background before coming to Korea?
My background before Korea is very boring. I worked for an IT company as an HR Manager. I did a lot of business administration and accounting tasks within the company. But I was also going to school at night to get my art degree. For a long time I focused on graphic design, but eventually started painting again around 2008.
How long have you been in Gwangju?
I’ve been in Gwangju since 2010. I’ve only ever lived in Gwangju. At one time I thought I might move to Seoul, but then I met my husband who is from Gwangju.
How do you spend your time when you are not making art?
I have a wide variety of hobbies. On the weekends, I usually spend my time with my husband and son. We love to travel around Korea. I especially love festivals, and there’s always a festival somewhere in Korea. I also love to visit Buddhist temples. The art there is very attractive to me – colorful, detailed and graphic. I also enjoy reading and watching movies. When I’m not painting, I’ve almost always got some idea of making other kinds of art. I’d like to start printmaking and jewelry making. Or maybe make stained glass. My biggest challenge for doing those is finding the supplies I need, so I usually bring back a collection of tools and materials from the US when I visit home.
Right now, I’m still doing an online course to get a teaching certificate. I’ve been studying for the last couple of years, so I haven’t had much free time to focus on my hobbies. But once that’s finished up I can’t wait to start making something. Right now I think I’m going to start making jewelry. But that could change. My heart is pretty fickle when it comes to art. I often have artistic mood swings.
I’ve been involved with the last 2 Synergy shows at the GIC, and I had another group show at the GIC in 2011. But I’m not very connected to the art community around Gwangju.
I don’t have any specific artistic goals set right now other than I want to try some new mediums and spend more on them. I’m almost to that point.
All art and photographs courtesy of Erin Heath Kim.