Do you enjoy drawing or appreciating it? Painting is an artistic act and a kind of communication that humans have always enjoyed. Since prehistoric times when there was no language, humans have conveyed messages through murals. Paintings capture each person's own story within the framework of free expression. People can freely communicate with each other without sound by observing drawings and putting their feelings directly into a painting. SMT talked with Choi Woo, who freely draws the inner world and communicates with the audience while realizing self-growth through painting.
To begin our interview, please introduce yourself to our readers.
Hello, my name is Choi Woo, and I am working in Dongdaemun. I am pleased and grateful to be interviewed by the Sookmyung Times.
What was your first drawing and what motivated you to draw it?
I don't remember my first drawing. However, the most memorable of my early work was those I drew while participating in art competitions between the ages of seven and eight. I drew naked images of men and women. A few years ago, while I was sorting out my father's belongings, I discovered that he had taken a picture of a painting. At that moment, my heart fluctuated, so the picture has still engraved in my heart. When I was young, due to a slight nervous breakdown or emotional anxiety, my writing and reading were a little slow. So I remember stuttering and being obsessed with images even at the age when I could write. Well, I think it was natural like crying out loud when a child is born. I think it has become a habit over a long time.
Art is often said to be a profession whose job security is not clear. Was there a time when you wanted to give up on it? If so, we wonder how you overcame that sadness.
There was a time when I felt burdened with a series of exhausting family problems, and I felt despair that morning would never come. This has been so hard on me that I needed to go through the process of accepting myself. Therefore, I spent most of my time doing manual labor and working to maintain the circumstances in which to paint. The higher the satisfaction level of the work, the more the paintings piled up, and such anxieties became natural to me as they could not be shaken due to living with them in my heart.
Since paintings serve as a vehicle for vividly conveying even sorrows, yours impress the people who view them. We wonder, for you as a painter, which of your pieces moved your heart the most.
As I said earlier, there were times when I was so tired because of the weight of living a life that I didn't want. At that time, I made the Black Series that explicitly depicted the inside of a very dark human being. Shamefully looking back now, I was rejecting the world at that time. I lost myself in anxiety and self-pity. However, the more I drew while expressing all my honest feelings, the more I was able to discover myself again in the process of drawing. In contradiction, when I wanted to give up, I started over with paper, pencils, and charcoal given to me by an artist who cherished me.
Recently, an exhibition called <Visiting the Desert Where the Milky Way Flows> was held. The title of the exhibition feels quite lyrical, and it goes well with your paintings which symbolically inspire hope. Are there any factors that you consider the most when naming an exhibition and what is the naming process like?
I pay as much attention to the title of the exhibition as to drawing. What I am most concerned about is whether the paintings and exhibition titles are naturally permeating like coffee and sugar. The title sometimes comes to mind in an instant in everyday life, but most of the time, while working on a picture, I go through the thoughts that come to my mind one by one and assemble them like puzzles.
Your unique style of painting is new and eye-catching. You were fascinated by the image of murals as a child, so is there any reason why you especially like walls? Also, we wonder if you can blend this into your work.
When I happened upon Goguryeo murals on the Internet, I felt a great sense of nostalgia and comfort. As people can see from the murals left by mankind, they are the most primitive and trivial daily records. Also, I thought the essence of painting is that traces of murals change into records over time. In order to produce something in my own way in modern work, I even study the color tone and texture line traces and challenge myself.
We think what stood out the most at this exhibition was the arrangement of the pieces. Usually, other artists display pictures in a row at exhibitions, but your paintings have a unique arrangement such as in a stair formation. Why are you using this method?
Actually, I think it was a common display. I wanted to convincingly express my world view of the pieces, which is to find my own order in chaos. Rather than focusing on any visual effects or each piece, I focused on the overall character and storytelling. Therefore, it seems that the parts gave the audience a feeling of novelty and uniqueness.
It is said that this exhibition took more than a year to put together. You seem to take much care when you release new art. When you have time to think deeply, how and where do you usually get inspiration from?
Regardless of whether the exhibition is big or small, the reason why it takes a lot of time to put together an exhibition is that I pay a lot of attention to small things. It is an important journey for an artist, but it is also a window to communicate with the audience. I often think about how to do better. In the process of considering, when I gather ideas from my past experience, inspiration comes to me. When I do this, it expands into the work, just like a flame catches fire at the moment of inspiration.
The process of breathing in sync with the audience also seems to be the most important part of the exhibition. Is there a better way to enjoy your works, breathing in sync with you?
Audiences can appreciate my paintings as visual play without thinking, but also I think it would be good to go deep into the pieces aesthetically and enjoy them. In addition, it would be interesting to follow the trajectory of a person's life as a painter. I think it is also interesting to ask questions about my pictures continuously.
When we look at your paintings, you use a lot of dark colors. Amazingly, they both feel dark, but at the same time hopeful. What kind of message do you want to convey to the audience with this?
Darkness and brightness have their own beauty. They highlight and illuminate each other's beauty. If it's night now, just as the morning always comes, even if despair comes, hope will come again someday. It contains my personal belief that even if something is full of hope, it is not to be arrogant, and even if it is hopeless, hope will come back, so there is no need to be too distressed.
Expressing the message you want to convey to the audience in a non-language form seems to consume a lot of energy. So we think resting is one of the important processes for you. What kind of activities do you usually do during your breaks to refresh yourself?
To me, painting is the act of collecting fragments of emotion and thought, and it takes a lot of mental effort. So I usually spend my rest time by not thinking about anything. Sometimes I zone out and walk around thoughtlessly. However, the most comfortable rest seems to be the pleasure that comes from the process of finishing a piece.
Your works seem to have a lot of themes that mainly deal with human beings. If you have any plans for the next exhibition, we wonder if you will use it again.
The subject of humans is the process of solving riddles for me. I'm interested in collecting and recording pieces of our lives and unraveling them in the painting. So I'd like to extend this further next time. I'm preparing for the upcoming "KIAF 2023" in a way that does not make me worry in advance but remains faithful to the situations I face.
You have sold more than 100 pieces in less than a year. Do you have any goals you want to achieve in your future career?
Selling is not everything to a painter, but I think it is not easy to maintain work and life as a full-time painter. To be specific, I've been working two jobs for 10 years. I remember selling only two pieces in seven years. For a while, I have been silently working because I thought this was the realm of heaven. I think I was lucky to get good results. From now on, I want to expand my worldview and continue to strengthen myself.
Like your painting that shows hope even in the dark, please say something to Sookmyungians who are silently trying to overcome their difficult moments.
It seems that good and bad things always come alternately in life. Even though I don't know much about college life, I hope that even if good and bad things happen in your college life, you don't have to put much meaning into it and deal with them flexibly. Wouldn't it be fun to challenge yourself with your given life? I'll always support you.
- TOPOHAUS (2023) - a private exhibition
- Plastic Art Seoul fair (2022)
- Galleries Art fair (2022)
- ARTSPACE H (2021) - a private exhibition
- GALLERY COOP (2021) - a private exhibition
Lee Gayun / Editor-in-Chief
Kim Park Yeonhoo / Reporter