Thinkspace is proud to present Kisung Koh’s latest body of work ‘Long Live The Polar Treasure’ in our project room. Kisung Koh, a South Korean Toronto-based artist uses oil paints to capture beautiful and sometimes heavy reflections of the majestic polar bear, and it’s connection with human plight. In anticipation of Koh’s upcoming exhibition with us, we have an exclusive interview with Kisung Koh to discuss his fascination with polar bears, a day in the studio, and his dream collaboration.
Long Live The Polar Treasure‘s opening reception is this Saturday, June 3rd from 6 -9 pm in our project room.
SH: What inspired this latest body of work? And what made you explore the theme?
KK: Most of my works are closely related to wildlife animals, and I do love and care all animals. In the past couple years, I found a very deep connection with Polar bears especially in many ways; I moved to Canada in 2006. To me, Canada is the place that I dreamed about but never thought about residing. Everything was new and unfamiliar. There were a lot of struggles and inner conflict, and loneliness.
At first, the idea of new and unfamiliar was interesting. However, as time goes by and feeling needed to fit in a new environment, I needed to do everything harder than others. Every moment was survival that I had to challenge myself to fit in a new environment, but unfortunately, I still feel that I can never fit in this world regardless family or friends. For these reasons, I saw myself in polar bears so wanted to capture the scene that the polar bear is resting in the environment where they are not supposed to be, in a dreamy way.
SH: Why did you choose to use Polar Bears as a symbol of the change and dislocation specifically, as due to global climate change and environmental threats many animals are facing challenges?
KK: There are many other endangered species due to environmental issues, poaching, habitat loss or political conflicts but the Polar bear is the one that you can think of the first when we talk about weather warming issue. In fact, they are among the most significantly affected species by temperature and sea ice level.
SH: What makes working with oil paints your medium of choice versus acrylic paints or other mediums?
KK: I used to use Acrylic, watercolor, and gouache paint at one point. I think I had used oil in the same technique as using other mediums but these days I really like using oil when making textures such as fur or other nature parts. In addition, using oil can create deeper emotions in my opinion when needed.
SH: How have you grown as an artist in the last 5 years and how do you hope to grow in the following 5?
KK: I was not satisfied with the level of ideas or concepts a few years ago and I noticed these days that it works better when I have related not only beauty of nature but everything happening in life to my works.
My answer might not be related, but I think it could be. I was not able to read books enough the past years, so next 5 years I’m reading more books, also experiencing more and spending more times with ‘humans’, trying to be more communal and social. As I mentioned earlier, I always feel alone no matter I have friends or family, so my hope is to be happy and to bring/share the happiness and sadness at the same time to others through my works.
I hope those I mentioned above will be seen more in my works in next 5years.
I want to be a better artist and better human being.
SH: What about another artists’ work excites or fascinates you? Who do you think everyone should look up?
KK: Sorry. Too many to list, and it changes every once in while but currently, my favorite painter is Aron Wiesenfeld.
SH: What is your creative process? Can you walk us through a day in the studio?
KK: I get inspirations or emotions from documentary videos, photos, and short animations. I’ve been listening podcast recently and I think it helps me too in some way. I just wish I were better in English words to understand them 100%.
It might sound weird, but when I try to get ideas or images, I close my eyes and draw overall image/ scene in my head first. Then I start doing small sketches roughly mixing with my visual image or emotions I get from my dreams (I can’t sleep well but I dream a lot, including something unnecessary. I sometimes get asked if I dream about animals. Sometimes yes (rarely) but the answer is No, at least not these days)
In addition to that, I find tons of reference photos for sketching.
I work at home, my living room with my dog ‘Dooly’.
SH: What do you think is the biggest misconception about being an artist?
KK: Well, I feel like I’m not in the position to say something because everyone has different opinions and I respect that. But here is my thought that I carefully say;
When people think of an artist, they tend to think artists have ‘free soul’; They do art because they love to do it, which is right. However, I don’t think art is not coming from just affection. The affection for art is a base coat. But it requires many processes of thinking, frustration, many experiences to create something that you would want to look at and feel deeply for a long time. You have to put your thoughts/message into your work and you need a reason at least to yourself. It is just not what you want to draw and paint yourself, obviously, depends on purpose and circumstance.
SH: Who would you want to collaborate with, dead or alive? The person can be in any area of the arts; film, dance, music etc.
KK: I’d like to dream big. Leonardo Dicaprio due to his environmental activism.
SH: If your artwork inspired a cocktail, what would it be made of and what would it taste like?
KK: I don’t really know about cocktails but I would say red wine + some sort of fruits. I actually drank so much wine while I was preparing this exhibition.
SH: When not in the studio, what would an ideal day look like?
KK: Spending time in nature and take photos of the scenes.