Kiseok Kim

Kiseok Kim was born and raised in Korea. He received his B.F.A. in painting from Dong-A University in Busan, Korea in 1999 and M.F.A. in Painting from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 2008. He moved to New York City in 2006, currently lives and works in New York. He has participated in solo and group exhibitions in and around New York City. His recent work is the portrait related to contemporary people in the media and he entitled this series “Plastic” connected with the idea of plasticity. The plastic series is featured in public and private collections throughout the United States and Korea.

My work is the portrait related to contemporary people but there is no specific model. I choose something from them and shape it according to my taste, so why I entitled my recent work "Plastic" connected with the idea of plasticity. The word “Plastic” is a very attractive word to me. It can be everything and is widely used in contemporary culture. With this idea, I also take a close look at everyday objects, especially patterns and colors in the media, and then I reflect them on canvas with my language.

The portrait does not render a specific person; the person in my work is an idealized being. I try to get rid of expression on the face so it looks almost frozen or static. In addition, its background is simple and no spatiality is suggested. Extremely planar surfaces and simple colors or patterns without spatiality are ways I try to make tension by the contrast between objects and background. This idea is connected to the composition of my work. I enlarge portraits to a great extent, with the result that I am cutting out the top part of the forehead and the bottom part of the neck. Therefore, these portraits are unusual and unstable in their arrangements. It finally aims to maximize the tension of the composition.

 My art starts from the search for some sort of human condition in contemporary culture. The images on the canvas reflect my imagination as well as styles in popular culture and the media. They are expressed as symbols, colors, or realistic descriptions. However, there is no negative or positive view. My recent work is cultural expression about my surroundings as a landscape painter looks at landscape carefully and paints on canvas, but not to judge them. At the same time, however, it is to find something unique to say. The figures in my work are used as objects to illustrate my own relationship to the world or feelings I have.

Q&A with Kiseok Kim
by Emily Burns

Hi Kiseok! Can you give us some insight into your process? How do you begin and how do you create your compositions?
I bring images from Internet or surrounding people. As you see, my work is realistic in terms of formal but the characters in my work are unrealistic. I consider the composition of colors and an atmosphere more important than detailed shapes when I borrow images from people. As many artists use digital tools, I also use Photoshop to preview the final result before I work on large canvases.    

Does drawing play a part in your work? Do you create smaller drawings or studies before moving toward larger canvases?
As mentioned above, I use Photoshop to arrange colors and patterns before working on a large canvas. Photoshop is useful to reduce brush strokes because it makes me reduce mistakes when I paint on canvas. In my work, flatness is not merely limited to the physical materials such as canvas and panel. It is my intention to make the surface of the canvas flatter and flatter. Therefore, removing the texture of canvas and brush strokes to maximize flatness is very important.

Some of the elements in your work maintain a distinctly digital and hard-edged feel that is difficult to obtain with oil paint on canvas. Can you talk about how you achieve this effect?
A figure is oil and background is stencils with acrylic. It is enough to paint the figure with brushes, but not easy to complete the background with just brushes because patterns on the background are very small and delicate. Of course, I also use brushes for patterns. It depends on size and shapes of patterns whether I use stencils or not.  

You reference social media and other digital icons in your work. Can you discuss this reference?
Today people are familiar with social media and digital images. Digital icons and patterns are very attractive materials to me as landscape painters are fascinated with nature and express on canvas according to their taste. I entitled my recent work ‘Plastic’ and reference social media and digital icons. There is no positive or negative view. I just paint like still life.

All of your paintings feature female subjects, has this always been the case? 
Sometimes people ask me “why you always paint women” and I think about it. In fact, I do not know. I just like painting females.

Do you use any source materials or references to create the characters in your work?
I pick up colors and shapes from surrounding people and the Internet. For example, once I saw a woman with blue hair when I walked on the street. The color and the shape were very impressive so I painted her in my studio. At other times, I gather lots of images from the Internet and then combine these pictures by using Photoshop. Like this, I decide simply what to paint or spend a lot of time to collect references to give shape to my idea.  

Some of your subjects appear more human, and others seem much more like caricatures or cartoons. Is there a difference in theme in each type of painting?
I used to refer to pictures a lot for my early works but I do not want my work to be called Photo Realism. Now I paint figures according to my taste rather than copying a photograph. When I paint or remember something, it is important how I recognize it. Consciousness is essential in order to recall something. Therefore, the objects or people in my work are deeply related to how I feel about them. 

What is a typical day like for you? 
I spend most of the time at my studio. Walking a little bit.

Can you describe your studio space? What are your most important workspace essentials?
I do not like to collect stuff so my studio is very simple. I cannot concentrate on working in the studio encumbered with unnecessary stuff.

What do you listen to while you work? Is this an important part of your practice?
I love rock music. Sometimes I spend a lot of time on searching rock bands on YouTube. I am listening to Silversun Pickups and Yellow Monsters

Has there ever been a book/essay/poem/film/etc that totally changed or influenced you? What are you reading right now?
Well, I like comic books and thriller movies. I am now reading The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

What are some of the artists that you look at feel that your work is in dialogue with?
Miki Carmi and Zhang Xiaogang. I still remember the feeling when I first saw Miki Carmi’s works at Stux gallery in New York ten years ago. Zhang Xiaogang is a Chinese painter leading the Chinese art scene. I am really interested in their approaches to figure paintings.

Do you have any exciting news or shows coming up?
I will have a solo show at Olivia Park Gallery in New York in February.

Thanks so much for sharing your work and talking with us!

To find out more about Kiseok and his work, check out his website.