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