Interview with Kisung Koh for “Way of Life II”

Kisung Koh’s “Way of Life II” opened Saturday, February 2nd and is on view till February 23rd. The exhibition features new works by Koh that highlights the hyper-realistically rendered and yet staged animals in abstracted or imagined spaces. The creatures acting as symbols for the complexity of life that is inexpressibly human and spiritual.

Our interview with Kisung Koh for “Way of Life II” discusses the inspiration behind the exhibition, the most challenging piece in the show, and the best advise he’s every received.

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?-

KK:  I was born and raised in South Korea then moved to Canada in 2006. My childhood memories are full of exploring nature/looking for any creatures in nature. All I wanted to do was nothing but witness, study and feel their life while the majority of kids went for video games or sports. I used to bring insects home and watch them again, only to be forced to release them after my Dad told me to.. haha. Anyway, I believe these habits have led me to create their ‘world’ in my works as I got older. I feel like I went back to my childhood in my works. In addition, I see a lot of myself from nature and learn life lesson such as dealing with relationships between people many times. 

I studied illustration at Sheridan College in ON, Canada, graduating with a BAA in 2012. I work and live in Toronto now. My zodiac sign is Scorpio. 

SH: What inspired this latest body of work?

KK: The new body of work for ‘Way of life 2’ has initially started with my feeling in people’s relationships and my thoughts to the world we live in.

By meaning ‘ the world’ is the most diverse and complex society. We feel many emotions and struggles in many circumstances. I feel like we hustle everyday in our lives. Since I’ve spent a lot of time for myself with depression while preparing this show,  I thought about the emotions and struggle that people could feel such as love, hate, sadness, abandoned, loneliness, solitude, confusion, selfishness, and mercy. I dedicated entirely those feelings to the new body of work, and decided to call it ‘way of life’.

These works are very personal but i believe and hope that viewers can apply themselves to my works.

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.  

KK: Polar bear one. In fact, it was a totally different painting at first and wasn’t even a polar bear but a mountain lion. This painting got me through so much time and trouble when I started this. I can’t really explain but every process with this particular piece gave me a crazy amount of stress and depression. Not because of the fact that I wasn’t happy with the piece, I basically had painted a number of poses and faces of a mountain lion that I thought were right for the piece, but in the end, none of them worked. At some point, I gave it up and was about to destroy it but then went back to this piece again. Mountain lions just wasn’t working here.

And I could’ve just gone away and started the next one. However, I strongly felt that I must get it right in this piece, it was like as if I had to win against the devil.  I know it sounds stupid. Again, I can’t explain and this might sound very foolish but somehow its got me more depressed every time. I was working on this, and it made me start thinking about who I am in relationships with people and society, why I think I’m always alone, why I think that I might have bad energy, my dog might not be normal because of my energy, and so on. As I’m writing this, I might regret later to reveal these negative thoughts but I want to be honest. In the end, I feel that I got the piece right.

SH:  How do you capture ideas for pieces; do you have a sketchbook on hand or is it just a note to yourself in your phone?

KK: I start to think about an animal that I like to paint. Then I create situations or stories, most of the time they are reflections of my life in a metaphorical way, then start creating the look I would be if I were this animal. And yes, I have a sketchbook on hand and sometimes I would like to take a photo or make a note in my phone.

SH: What excites you about your work / creative process?

KK: In my works, I spend a lot of time to create facial expressions of animals, in between dreamy and realistic. When I get it right, I’m happy. I also get excited when my final work looks the same that I had first. I’m sure many artists feel the same, but it’s a challenge for me to make the final work looking just like the image in your head because I sometimes change the entire mood of image or myself while I’m working.

SH: What frustrates you about your work / creative process?

KK: Hm, I think making a ‘right'( for me) image and mood that a piece shows is the challenge. Maybe I think I’m too picky most of the times. It’s also challenging to make the right ‘look’ on the animal’s face. 

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

KK: I can’t answer this question, because I think the role of artists in society has so many and I agree with most of them.  All I can say is it’s essential in our life. 

SH: If your body of work inspired an ice cream flavor, what would it be called and what are the ingredients?

KK: I’m not sure the flavor but I just imagined in my head that someone eating a vanilla ice cream cone and looking at my works. I tried to see different ice cream in someone’s hand but it has to be vanilla ice cream cone, no syrup on. Let’s say McDonald ice cream cone but in longer cone. 

SH: What is the best advice you’ve received as an artist? The best advice you’ve received in general?

KK: “Believe in yourself”

SH: Favorite way to celebrate the completion of a project/body of work?

KK: I want to have beautiful times with my wife and my two dogs. They are my everything in Canada. 

Interview with Kisung Koh for “Long Live The Polar Treasure”

Thinkspace is proud to present Kisung Koh’s latest body of work ‘Long Live The Polar Treasurein 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.