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“I use acrylics now. I use oil-based inks in printmaking as well. Mastering a new material takes years if not 10,000 hours.”

Hee Sook Kim: The Genesis of an Artistic Vision

Hee Sook Kim‘s artistic journey is a tapestry of cultural duality, weaving together her South Korean heritage with the Western influences that now surround her in Philadelphia. From a young age, inspired by the art of Paul Gauguin, she embarked on a path that would see her art celebrated internationally. Her high school years marked the beginning of an odyssey that has led to numerous accolades, including the prestigious Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant. This journey has not just been about creating art; it has been about telling a story that transcends geographic and cultural boundaries.

Her role as a professor at Haverford College in Pennsylvania is not merely a job; it is an extension of her art. Here, Kim cultivates an environment where the next generation of artists can flourish, guided by her experiences and insights. Her mentorship is a reflection of her journey, offering a unique blend of Eastern and Western artistic traditions. This role amplifies her influence beyond the canvas, allowing her to shape the perspectives and techniques of budding artists. Through her teaching, Kim extends her artistic legacy, embedding her rich blend of cultural insights into the hearts and minds of her students.

Cultural Synthesis: Blending East and West

Kim’s art is a mesmerizing hybrid of Asian and Western styles, a testament to her diverse influences and experiences. She draws inspiration from traditional Korean painting, known for its delicate water-based techniques, and combines this with the bolder mediums of Western art, such as oil paintings and printmaking. Her series “Nirvana” and “Paradise Between” exemplify this synthesis, incorporating spiritual themes through the use of medicinal plants and Korean longevity landscapes, reminiscent of the Joseon Period.

In response to the social and political upheavals following the 2016 Presidential election, Kim created a series of American flags, a bold departure from her earlier themes. These flags, crafted from diverse materials like gemstones, silk flowers, and tree branches, are a commentary on femininity and strength. They stand as a response to the male-dominated social structures, celebrating the power of womanhood. This series marks a significant evolution in her work, highlighting her ability to engage with contemporary issues through a deeply personal and artistic lens. Hee Sook Kim’s creations are not just visual spectacles; they are dialogues on current societal dynamics, wrapped in the elegance of artistic expression.

The artist’s workspace is a sanctuary of creativity, where the essential elements of her artistic process come together. A large table and expansive wall space are pivotal, accommodating the sprawling nature of her work. Boxes of collage materials scatter around, each holding a piece of the narrative she weaves through her art. Printmaking, a technique that finds its way into many of her pieces, requires a dedicated space for her to imprint patterns and textures onto her canvases. In this studio, distractions are banished, allowing Kim to immerse herself fully in the artistic process. It is here, in this cocoon of creativity, that her ideas transform into tangible expressions of her inner world.

Hee Sook Kim: Echoes of Influence

The roots of Hee Sook Kim’s artistic identity lie deep in the soil of her Korean heritage, nourished by the teachings of old Korean painters and the profound influence of Western masters like Cezanne. Her formative years in high school were shaped by an introduction to Cezanne’s work, an experience that left an indelible mark on her artistic psyche. This dual influence is evident in her work, which seamlessly blends the delicate sensibilities of traditional Korean art with the bold, exploratory spirit of Western art. A pivotal moment in her artistic journey was her visit to Sainte Victoire Mountain in Aix-en-Provence, a landscape famously captured by Cezanne. Inspired by this experience, Kim embarked on a new series, infusing the scene with her unique hybrid style, a blend of her Korean roots and her Western artistic influences.

The artist’s commitment to her craft is a journey of constant evolution, always seeking new avenues to explore and express her artistic vision. This journey has led her to various residencies, from Barcelona to Santa Fe, each offering a new palette of experiences and inspirations. These residencies have been crucial in her artistic development, providing her with opportunities to engage with diverse art communities and immerse herself in different cultural landscapes. These experiences have not only enriched her artistic vocabulary but also expanded her ability to communicate universal themes through her art. In every brushstroke and every composition, Hee Sook Kim’s work is a testament to a life spent exploring, learning, and growing as an artist.

Hee Sook Kim: A Personal Touch in Art

Delving into specific artworks reveals the depth and personal significance of Kim’s creations. “Sibjangsangdo,” a Korean longevity landscape painting, holds a special place in her heart, symbolizing her connection to her Korean roots. Similarly, “Everlasting Playground,” an installation at the Philadelphia International Airport, is imbued with a sense of personal and cultural identity. This piece, adorned with rhinestones and inspired by Korean folk painting styles, is more than just an artwork; it’s a visual representation of Kim’s journey and experiences. It offers a moment of tranquility and reflection for travelers, embodying themes of nature, serenity, and the rejuvenation of spring. This installation is a prime example of how Kim’s work bridges the gap between traditional cultural motifs and contemporary artistic expression.

Another significant exhibition in Kim’s career was “Surfacing” at the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, curated by Ricardo Reyes. This exhibition delved deep into her experiences as an Asian American woman, navigating the complexities of identity and emotional resilience in challenging times. Rich in symbolism and narrative, the exhibition showcased her mastery in blending traditional Korean aesthetics with modern artistic techniques. It stood as a profound insight into her life’s journey and her relentless pursuit of artistic expression. Each piece in this exhibition, and indeed in all of her work, is a piece of Hee Sook Kim herself, a fragment of her story told through the universal language of art.

In her artistic practice, Kim has demonstrated versatility and adaptability in her choice of mediums. Initially working with oil colors and wax mediums, she shifted to acrylics due to the harsh smell of turpentine during her pregnancy. This transition was not just a practical decision; it was a doorway to new possibilities, allowing her to explore and innovate with water-based techniques. The flexibility and versatility of acrylics opened up new horizons in her artistic expression, demonstrating her ability to adapt and master new materials. Her dedication to mastering these new mediums, whether it takes years or the proverbial 10,000 hours, is a testament to her commitment to her craft.

Looking to the future, Hee Sook Kim harbors dreams of new projects and artistic explorations. Her current focus is on the Sainte Victoire mountains, famously painted by Cezanne. This project is more than just an artistic endeavor; it’s a full-circle moment, connecting her present work to the inspirations of her youth. As she embarks on this series, there is a palpable sense of excitement and anticipation for what these new creations will reveal about her ongoing artistic evolution. In every project, in every series, Hee Sook Kim continues to push the boundaries of her art, constantly exploring new ways to express her unique vision and experiences.

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