Interview with Stella Im Hultberg for “Tiger Whiskers”

SH: For those that are not familiar with you and your work, can you give us a brief look at your artistic background and zodiac sign? 

SIH: Hello, to those that are new to me and my work – my name is Stella Im Hultberg, I’m a Virgo fire dragon. 

I am mostly self-taught as an artist, save for some extracurricular drawing classes I took as a kid. I studied industrial design in college and worked in the field for some years designing various kinds of products. 

I began showing art 14 years ago, sharing my earliest days with Thinkspace, whom I owe the path I’m walking on to this day!

Thinkspace is pleased to present Tiger Whiskers featuring new work by Stella Im Hultberg. Her background has lent to a diverse blend of cultural influences to pull from and her works meld the figurative with the illustrative to create dreamy painterly compositions.

In anticipation of Tiger Whiskers, our interview with Stella Im Hultberg discusses the most exciting thing to happen in her life thus far, the artistic challenges she faced in this new body of work, and some solid life advice.

SH: What is the inspiration and themes you explored for this body of work?

SIH: I have been reading a lot of texts (online and books) and thinking about traditional rituals and belief systems/world view of Korea, as well as other cultures. One of the things that really runs through nearly all cultures is the idea of protection. Protecting one’s own children, family, tribe, etc, seems to have always been one of the top priorities since humans came to existence. 

This body of works was mostly inspired by talismanic rituals and customs that are meant to wish one the best in life and protection from evil forces.

I read that even up until not too long ago, people in Korea used to have a painting of a tiger in the house as a talisman. They believed that having one would keep them safe and protected from other evil forces/harms or misfortunes. I have heard it’s still a custom in North Korea to this day. This was one of the inspirations for “Talisman”.

Wedding customs also gave me inspiration for this series. For example, “The Immortals” was mostly inspired by a bridal garb called “hwarot (활옷)” that is usually red with intricately detailed embroidery of 10 things from nature that symbolize long lives (including the sun and the moon). This in and of itself shows the worldview of ancient Koreans, and to embroider that with care onto a bride’s outfit was to wish them a happy, long life and marriage.

It occurred to me that these rituals and customs were maybe rooted in a mother’s wish for their children to be safe and healthy. I have a theory that all these religions and traditions in our world may not have made it to this day and age of science and technology had it not been for the desperate desires of parents that could only rely on a superpower to entrust their best wishes for their children and the children of their children.

SH: What is your favorite and least favorite part of the creative process?

SIH: My favorite part is starting with an idea/vision and seeing it happen layer by layer, hour after hour. The journey itself, even the battles and fights.

My least favorite thing about being an artist is everything else not directly involving creating – business stuff, and wrapping up the paintings (scanning, shipping, packing, etc).

But if I singled out my least favorite part out of the whole creative process only, would be sharpening pencils.

SH: Is there a particular piece in this exhibition you feel really challenged you? If so, why and what makes you proud of this piece.

SIH: I spent much more time building up the layers and inserting details in this series compared with my previous works, so I ended up encountering challenges with each piece. 

When you’re building up so many layers, you’re essentially painting the same thing over and over. With “Talisman” and “The Immortals”, I got near nauseous painting so many layers of so many flowers. 

“The Immortals” is also a very different format than I’m used to, at 12 inches wide by 48 inches long. Figuring out a composition that would work and also wrangling the panel was quite challenging for me.

SH: If you could make an album cover for any musical artist, who would it be?

SIH: At the moment, IU.

SH: A Netflix movie is being made about your life, who would be cast to play you (the actor does not need to look like you, more be able to capture your essence) and what kind of movie would it be? Try to describe it with similar movies.

SIH: Ugh sorry, that would be an utter flop, I would have to really have a long talk with Netflix execs to convince them to look elsewhere.

If they must still go through it (good luck Netflix!), whatever it is, maybe it should star ScarJo, since I’m Asian. Lol

SH: What is the best technical advice you’ve received in regards to painting / being an artist? What is the best philosophical advice you’ve received?

SIH: Because I never had a formal art education, I can’t really remember if I ever got a piece of technical advice. Not directly anyway. 

But for being an artist – is to show up at your studio every day. Even if you’re there just reading a book, showing up is key. I know a lot of people think artists do whatever they feel like and work whenever but a lot of artists I know work diligently and to schedule. I follow the schedule and deadlines I have set for myself much more strictly now, now that I have a kid and time really is precious!

For general philosophical advice – I really like the quote that says to “be soft. Do not let the world make you hard”. 

Also personally, my mom told me (loosely translated), “if you’ve already committed do doing something, do it without complaint and with a happy heart”. I have found that attitude to be so helpful when taking the time and effort out to help others. And for parenting, of course. 

SH: What do you think the role of artists in society? How does other artwork inform how you move through life?

SIH: I do love how there were always artists, throughout history, that contributed to the subversive culture. Something that stands up to authority and the climate of the days. Especially in the olden days when art was more of an exclusive, elite form of cultural element. I believe it still is true, and whether or not it shows on the surface, I, too, have been influenced by current political/societal climate.

I love the captured moments that could be missed otherwise, and the suspension and extension of emotional moments and snippets I can see in other artworks. Connecting with the viewer at a very human, emotional, experiential level shows me hope for humanity. It seems to tell me that someone is out there paying attention to the most detailed, tiniest slivers of other people’s emotions (through their own, perhaps) that can be verbally inexplicable.

SH: What is the coolest or most exciting thing to happen to you thus far in life and is it because of or connected to your work?

SIH: Having my daughter. This is obviously not directly related to my work but everything about the way I work and the way I view things (including my work) has changed for good since she was born. 

It was a rough beginning, and in some ways I’m still trying to figure out the right balance between parenting and painting, but now that she’s a bit older (she’s 6 now) and we can have some interesting conversations and idea discussions, she has been the biggest source of enrichment in my life. 

I learn so many new things every day from her, not to mention getting ideas (and knowledge even) that have never occurred to me before. 

She and her future are my inspiration and my fuel to propel me forward as an artist now.

SH: Fun Hypothetical: A world-renowned chef wants to make a dish inspired by your artwork and favorite food. What would be the dishes ingredients and what is it similar too?

SIH: I can’t really think of how this will relate to my works and all I can think of is what I want to eat now that I have this chef at my command haha 

My cooking mind isn’t creative enough to come up with new dishes for someone to invent (especially relating to my work). 

But if the said world-renowned chef happens to be an older Asian mom/grandma/auntie, I’ll happily eat, um, I mean, I’ll be happy with anything she creates.

Opening Reception: Saturday, November 9th 6-9 PM

On view: November 9, 2019 – November 30, 2019

Stella Im Hultberg’s “Tiger Whiskers” Opening November 9th.

STELLA IM HULTBERG
“Tigers Whiskers”
Opening Reception:
Sat., Nov. 9th, 6-9 PM

Stella Im Hultberg was born in South Korea, raised in Seoul, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and later in California. She studied Industrial Design and worked as a product designer before serendipitously falling into the art world in late 2005.

Hultberg’s paintings are conceived in varying combinations of ink, watercolor, and oils on paper, wood and canvas. Her lyrical depictions of women combine decorative elements and graphic patterns, melding the figurative with the illustrative and a looser more painterly component. Ever present, this tension between the gestural and the controlled describe space in her dynamic compositions. Her palettes tend towards the monochromatic, moody and dark, but are punctuated by moments of contrast and vibrancy.

Her mannered figurative style, both elegant and selectively awkward, is at times reminiscent of early 20th century artists like Egon Schiele, Aubrey Beardsley or Gustav Klimt. Though beautiful, her figures are strangely displaced, subtly distorted, and at times melancholically encumbered with ornamentation, as seen in a recent series in which her nudes are laden with heavy blooms. Darkly beautiful, Hultberg’s feminine imaginary is an ambiguous terrain of melancholic desire.

Having grown up in Hong Kong, Korea and Taiwan, she has a diverse blend of cultural influences to pull from. After a decade in NYC, she now lives (and works) in Portland OR with her daughter and husband.

Group Exhibition “Elysium” & Lauren Brevner’s Solo Exhibition Opening Reception Recap

Thank you to all that came out to support the opening of our November exhibitions. Congratulations to Atsuko Goto, Audrey Kawasaki, Stella Im Hultberg, Fuco Ueda, Jolene Lai, Lauren Brevner and Lonac on beautiful new bodies of work.

All three exhibits are on view through this Saturday, November 24 at Thinkspace Projects. Visit our website to view the available pieces from Elysium, Menagerie, and Summer in Zaberg. 

Photos courtesy of Birdman.

Group Exhibition “Elysium” Featuring Audrey Kawasaki, Fuco Ueda, Atsuko Goto, Jolene Lai, and Stella Im Hultberg in Main Room, November 10th – November 24th

Group Exhibition – ELYSIUM
featuring new works from
AUDREY KAWASAKI
FUCO UEDA
ATSUKO GOTO
JOLENE LAI
STELLA IM HULTBERG 
Opening Reception:
THIS Saturday, November 10 from 6-9PM

AUDREY KAWASAKI 

Audrey Kawasaki is a Japanese-American artist currently living and working in Los Angeles. She attended the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY where she was influenced by Manga and art nouveau. Her work depicts sensuous young women on wood panel, with a strong emphasis on line quality and facial expression.

The themes in Audrey Kawasaki’s work are contradictions within themselves. Her work is both innocent and erotic. Each subject is attractive yet disturbing. Her sharp graphic imagery is combined with the natural grain of the wood panels she paints on, bringing forth unexpected warmth to enigmatic subject matter.

The figures she paints are seductive and contain an air of melancholy. They exist in their own sensually esoteric realm, yet at the same time present a sense of accessibility that draws the observer to them.

FUCO UEDA 

The Tokyo-based Ueda creates surreal paintings of enigmatic girls in strangely beautiful incandescent dreamscapes. With larger than life flowers and creatures ranging from moray eels to butterflies, her paintings are like apparitions pulled from the shadowy depths of the subconscious. Her mischievous adventurers are innocent and devious, at times playful and others sinister, suspended somewhere between the waking world and the beyond. An inscrutable universe of lush neon chrysanthemums and florid skins, Ueda’s world is a hallucinatory daydream.

Ueda’s works convey the lonely meditative feeling of dreams, a world set apart from the existence of others and self-sustained by isolated dread and reverie. At times a darkness pervades with recurring symbols like skeletal hands and the fiery orbs, or hitodama, of Japanese folklore, thought to be the souls of the dead. Another recurring symbol that figures prominently in her works is the chrysanthemum, also a symbol of loss, death, and vulnerability. These surreal apparitions reinforce a sense of displacement and transience. Her lithe figures, often charged with a cryptic eroticism, dissolve into the webs of these conjured worlds; like figments crossing over into ghostly recesses.

The tone of Ueda’s works tends to shift towards a lighter and more whimsical extreme as well. Her girls are often surrounded by small birds, butterflies, underwater creatures, beribboned pets, and dazzling flora, in dreamily abstracted landscapes that seem to glow and hum with weird life. The combination of these light and dark extremes is often unexpected, and psychologically evocative. Beautifully illustrated girls drip with honey and bare skinned knees, while snakes, fish, cobwebs, and bright fungi surround and shroud them. Contrasts abound in her choice of palettes as well, with the mixture of deeply pigmented hues, dark blacks, bright neons and iridescent pastel purples and blues.

ATSUKO GOTO 

Atsuko Goto creates beautifully melancholic images of delicate figures cloaked and merged with natural elements, everything from flowers and butterflies to insects, birds, and fish. Her muted palette is as ghostly as haze, achieved through the unique application of diluted pigments made from semi-precious lapis lazuli, ink, and gum arabic applied to cotton.

Inspired by Japanese Shinto and the belief that nature is animated by divinity and sacred spirits harbored in every living and inanimate thing, Goto creates imagery that conveys this feeling of profuse life force and intangible mystery, offset by a darker suggestion of mourning and lament. Quietly meditative, her works exude a dreamlike calm and resignation despite their abundance of detail and the density of her compositions. Silence and forlorn composure define this existence of the preternatural.

Fragile in their tempered darkness, the works are subtle and near translucent – like the unknown light and strange optics of an otherworldly plane where everything is unsubstantial. A feeling of entrapment and isolation persists, however, in the quietude. Like hauntings from the subconscious, the paintings feel like faded dreams, surreal distortions bordering on the ominous. Unsettling, the muted beauty of these diaphanous idols loom, uncannily caught in a thin veil between worlds.

JOLENE LAI

Jolene Lai is a Los Angeles-based artist and illustrator born and raised in Singapore. After studying painting at Lasalle-SIA College of the Arts in Singapore, Jolene studied graphic design at UCLA and spent a year working at a movie-poster design house, The Refinery Creative, before returning to focus on fine art.

She works primarily with oil on canvas or mixed media on watercolor paper. With bold use of color, shape and intricate detail, she creates images with a seductive aesthetic and subject matter that weaves in emotions of whimsy, melancholy, irony, and absurdity.

Lai seeks to engage her audience in works that are approachable, newly imagined spaces that the viewer is invited to explore on their own terms.

STELLA IM HULTBERG 

Stella Im Hultberg was born in South Korea, raised in Seoul, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and later in California. She studied Industrial Design and worked as a product designer before serendipitously falling into the art world in late 2005. Stella Im Hultberg’s paintings are conceived in varying combinations of ink, watercolor, and oils on paper, wood, and canvas. Her portraits of women are rendered in easy, flowing lines with soft hues that transcend the typical critiques of feminine beauty, inherent in today’s self-conscious society.

Hultberg originally studied Industrial Design at CSU, which naturally segued into work as a toy designer early on in her career. Work in the design industry serendipitously led to her building on her natural talents as an artist and a career as a self-taught painter soon followed. Having grown up in Hong Kong, Korea, and Taiwan, she has a diverse blend of cultural influences to pull from.

When not painting or drawing, she likes to eat, ride her bicycle, and play the New York Times crossword puzzle. After a decade in NYC, she now lives (and works) in Portland OR with her daughter and husband.

 

The Creator Project Features Artists Stella Im Hultberg & Audrey Kawasaki

Creators Project Audrey Kawasaki

The Creators Project features the beautiful work of Audrey Kawasaki and Stella Im Hultberg, highlighting their current exhibition at Thinkspace Gallery and an excellent look into the artist themselves.

Visit The Creators Project website for the full article.

“Her paintings follow a single illusive muse: an ageless, erotically charged girl who is reinvented and reimagined in each composition.” – The Creators Project regarding Audrey Kawasaki’s work.

Audrey Kawasaki’s ‘Interlude’ & Stella Im Hultberg’s ‘Hollow Resonance’ are currently on view now through December 3rd.