3 Questions Digital Series

Namwon Choi

An interview from Art in Embassies 3 Questions Digital Series with Namwon Choi, who speaks about her creative process and artwork at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Tirana, Albania.

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Full Transcript

I’m always, like even when I was little, that’s the only thing I want to be, that’s the only thing I do well. I mean, yes, my father was a painter so I think a lot of part of the decision was probably made when from my parents in an earlier stage, but in Korea I finished my undergrad and grad program in traditional Korean painting and through that long training I never get to learn and appreciate what’s beyond my culture, like what’s beyond tradition. And that actually I find that limitation, I felt constrained. There’s something more that I can expand my artistic voices and expand my life experiences to make my work richer. I guess I’m not the only one, so many artists, they chose to relocate themselves to Paris, or chose to relocate themselves to different cities and different parts of the world, just as art is about identity. They see themselves in a different way, step back and keep distance. The more I stay, there are so many things that I didn’t know, and there’s so many things that I should learn, to become an artist, a contemporary artist. It actually challenges me in so many ways, do I still want to do this? Like do I still want to make art in a new completely different environment. Every time I ask that same question do I still want this? It has been yes, and it will be yes, so I’m very grateful that I know what I want at an earlier stage growing up in a family environment that actually was encouraged, so yeah I feel very fortunate.

As a Korean immigrant like living and creating in America, I’ve always perceived myself as a being inbetween two countries, and being in between affiliation and alienation, so I decided to paint the view from driving the highway – the space in between – that connects one city to another, which is also easily passed by or forgotten. I mean, no matter where you go, highway look exactly the same, if you go to Korea the highway look the same, Georgia 85, they all look the same, so I thought that’s very interesting too, that not only connects between, but because it’s so local, that people find it boring, and also this sounds strange but I don’t feel any homesickness when I am on highway, I thought well that’s very strange experience and yeah, that got me, that brought me to start being interested, seeing the highway in a completely new way. And I particularly choose and limit my color pallet with the color blue because the color blue we associate with the idea of distance, you know, the objects that are far away tend to be bluer than the rest. So for all that reason, I try to, I’ve been creating sort of blue, monochromatic landscapes, ever since, in a shape panel or shape canvases. So to make it personal I have to create interesting personal compositional units that speak about me so I chose Korean letters as a compositional unit. So Korean letters are composed of combinations of lines and circles, it’s very abstract and geometry so I would use the circular shape Korean letter which represent the sky and I would choose square which represent the earth and line represents an upright human that connects between the sky and earth. So I intentionally choose to use interesting compositional units instead of wide panoramic scenes.

My subject matter is about in between, like the distance in between but the method that I’ve been using to depict that distance is intimate. You know, I create distance sort of like creating in an intimate manner to make viewers feel close to my work and use very small, small gesture that almost look like photo and some people even ask is this painted or a print, but I intentionally choose copying the distance with an intimate manner because copying is the way we learn the world, you know, copying how we talk from my mother, from our parents and cultures. You know, copying is I think the way we understand the world, so I would use photo references, you know, I mean, I take small still shots every time I drive, I don’t hold my phone but every time I drive I try to burst option so I can get random pictures and blow them up of the highway and then thoroughly research when I am home and creating a composition from there and when I get the composition right then painting, with a small brush, months and months.