Hee Sook Kim

Born 1960, Hee Sook Kim is a brilliant diverse artist to hails from South Korea. Her work varies from paintings to drawing but the reason why I have chose to write and show her work today is mainly for her prints. Why have i chose Hee Sook Kim? To me her work has a unique beauty and captures colours in a very imaginative way.

Hee Sook kim is currently a professor teaching printmaking at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. Im not going to go too much into detail about the artist myself as i have the artist statement on her life and what has inspired her to do her work.

“For me, it seems that childhood memories always remain in my heart like a strong magic spell.

When I came to America to study art, experiencing new cultures, foreign languages, people, and environments challenged me to find my real self, who I was and am. Confusion, struggle, anxiety, anger, pain and agony, and identity have become infused into my work and have evolved to different stages. While I still lived in Manhattan, 9/11 came and left unforgettable scars in my life. One of my friends died. My family and I were locked in for a week. It took 6 months to clean the air of death out of our neighborhood. Experiencing it all changed me and my work. I started to ponder life and death, self identity and meaning of being American, and, strangely, a healing. A memory of my childhood came up: my grandmother’s garden and affections, its magical power over a little girl, the hope of healing.

I create to share experiences I’ve had in America filtered by the culture I grew up in. When people ask me what artists influenced my work the most and I mention old Korean paintings, it puzzles and confuses those with only knowledge of Western art and its artists. I know it especially challenges those who feel superior to Asian culture.

I use Sumi ink, water based colors, Calligraphic brush strokes, strange marks, and texts in foreign languages. As a result, they see waxy surfaces and numerous mysterious layers. A work that doesn’t belong to any categories of art makes them wonder. Is it a painting or a print? Where is the root coming from? There is no connection to Western art tradition that they can easily refer to. The strange foreign object has something they never knew before. Something that they cannot clearly describe or explain makes them uncomfortable, yet curious.

Korean culture is especially foreign to some people. They barely remember the Korean War and the involvement of American troops. A female artist from that country who has lived here for about 18 years, who might have become an American by now, is still an alien in this country. Her language is still not perfect. She now has her own culture mixed between two, American and Korean. She doesn’t belong anywhere, yet physically does in America. Relocation of plants I adopt in my work explains it. One of my pieces has 50 panels (10″x8” each) of plants transformed with texts in its own language and English. Each panel has a plant that I collected in each country I visited, first New Mexico, later Korea, Switzerland, and Italy. Experiences I had in each place exposed on plants I picked in a foreign soil and climate, imaginably in people who lived there. It is a symbolic object representing the whole culture of the place and an actual being that can cure certain diseases. Each place has its own unique plant: as I remember from an old Korean saying, “Our land always provides cures in native plants when we have diseases”. I make them to awaken people to recognize different cultures and experience them through my work.

America is a country of immigrants and has been, with the exception of its native populations, from its political beginnings. Although there shouldn’t be any superior cultures or ethnicities, we have had a long history of controversial conflicts. We still do. We are too busy to understand others or too proud to acknowledge other cultures and differences. We think our culture is the greatest one. What is our culture then? It is the culture we’ve formed and transformed out of many others. I want to evoke this idea through my work. I want viewers to be both challenged and acknowledged by my work.

I deal with spirituality, a subject that has long been disregarded in the contemporary art scene. A desire of healing is another important subject for me. In Asian philosophy, Chi is an important part of human life. The energy we can’t see is the vital role of our body and comes from nature itself. Recognizing its power in modern sciences is a valuable change in our culture. One of the important scientific discoveries is about medicinal plants and acupunctural treatments as alternatives to traditional medicine. My work holds the power of spirituality. I want people to experience it, or at least to be aware of it.

The totality of the above is the work I make. As a result, it is a unique being, possibly a foreign and uncomfortable one, yet a peaceful one you can even meditate on. I want to challenge viewers to recognize them all in their own way and hopefully for them to create their own.” Hee Sook Kim


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