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Eunju Kang - detail of diptych
Eunju Kang (detail of diptych)

Interview by Tim Thayer with New York City based monoprint, painting, and collage artist Eunju Kang. The interview was done via email during August and September 2008.

TT: Eunju, talking to you, I know that you lived in Korea and then moved to California when you were 14. How did you end up in New York?

EK: I moved to California with my family when I was 14. After graduating from UCSB, I started another school, Pasadena Art Center College of Design. There, I met a woman who went to the art colony in Provincetown, MA. That was 1989. So I applied, thinking that a fellowship is like graduate school… to further my art. It was a very, very different experience from where I grew up in Arcadia, California. So, I did one year of that fellowship. Then applied to the second year, and stayed another year… moved to New York from there. If I did not make the second year, I would have not have moved to New York.

TT: Are there parts of your work that relate to the places you have lived? I ask because they are very different from each other and I can only imagine a strong influence from each on your life at least, if not your art?

EK: Tim, I think it is more of what kind of state of mind I am in at that time… just like certain songs, or smell. I remember where I was and what I saw then and what kind of emotional state I was in. Sometimes, I can tell where I was through my work, also. I think the diversity in each shows when I work. When I make prints I love handling paper. Then when I make wooden boxes, I love using nails and hammering things down. Then often I glue things, too. As much as they all seem different, I would like to think that it shows it is done by one person somehow.

TT: I definitely see a thread in all your work, which leads to this question: How do you see that thread in terms of time, from when you first started creating art to today? Is it very linear, with each work building on the next, or have there been sudden shifts in style or material? (Or a little of both - linear and dramatic breaks)?

EK: Not sure...It is very linear, just like the monoprints I make. When I first was introduced to it, which was 1980, I was obsessed- literally. I think I made prints everyday for the next ten years or more. One thing leads to another. Ghost image will bring something totally new the next day. Then, sometimes, when I do not clean my plates, the dust will add onto the next prints… amazing process. I look forward to that surprise so much. Once I get into it, I get lost in it. So, there were not many sudden shifts. I drag along everything, at all times it seems, until I turned 40. I think I learn to let go of things more as I get older.

When I first started creating? That would be my childhood; doodling…at all times. Then I came to U.S. and my doodling intensified, since I did not know the language.

TT: Do other visual artists, well known people, or people that you know, influence your work? Or are other influences stronger, such as a different medium (music, or television, etc.), or is even your own work a bigger influence on you than others'?

EK: Influences... I always get really excited when I find some artist's work that I like. I love looking at their work. I remember a few artists, like Ben Shahn's work. I love looking through his work. The way he paints, the subject matter, though they are so different from my own work. I admire them so much. I also love Terry Winter's work. When I was younger, I looked at Diebenkorn's work a lot. Motherwell's work inspired me to start working in abstraction. Miranda's paintings. Some others I cannot remember off hand. But as far as influencing the way I work, I am not sure how deeply, and directly they do. I also loved sketches of Louise Bourgeois.

TT: In terms of influence, can you talk about how working with others - either in school or fellowships - shapes your work and how that differs from being alone in your studio?

EK: Definitely, I get more challenged being in a school setting or in fellowship situations because you look at other people's work all the time.

TT: Are there common themes that run through the work? Or does each piece or even type of work (painting vs. monoprinting) have its own reason for being?

EK: Once in a while I have the urge to paint about something. For instance, it helped me to start painting that new work which was inspired by a fish tank a friend had…all the corals I saw were unreal. Anyway, it helped me to start that new painting. But though I start with an idea, once I start the painting, it goes somewhere else. To me, it always helps to have some tangible idea to start a painting, but I never thought that I have one grand theme going. When I was on the Cape this September, I had some pieces of a shaped plate that I started out with, thinking of the same theme- fish tank, corals...then, it took off. Once I see things progress on the paper, I am only attending to its own space, that piece alone. Anyway, my work usually goes along with each day's happenings-inside and out.

TT: How do you like to work? In big blocks of time? Finishing a work in one session? Or over many visits to the studio? Also, how many works fail? And what happens to the work that doesn't come together - do you rework it, abandon it?

EK: Momentary abandonment? Sometimes I do prints and keep them for a long time, years. Then I get into it with a totally new medium. Some of them, I give a total new life to and it becomes a new piece completely. So, I have a hard time giving up on pieces, and never think it is a total failure. I might be too optimistic of a person but when I feel a piece is not so successful, I keep them inside someplace and when I find them again, it is a surprise to me…it always works for me. When I find them again, I might be in a totally different place and it might not look so bad.

I do not have a long focused time - I enjoy jumping around and welcome interruptions all the time. When I focus, it might be a short time but it can be very intense. I challenge myself with projects that demand focus like collaging tiny pieces of paper on a four foot square surface. But most of the time, I move around a lot. I have different spaces inside of my little studio- watercolor, water medium in one, oil in another, pastel, a cutting and nailing area. I like to move around. Then of course, I have some tea or chat with my sisters, etc..

TT: Is it hard to sell your work? That is, do you feel sentimental about different pieces and want to keep them?

EK: I used to have terribly difficult time parting with my pieces. Then I noticed one day how much I have accumulated over the years. Also, being so attached does not help me to think about the next piece.

I wanted to move on, I wanted to continue making new work as I go. Always looking back, looking back at old pieces is not healthy, I thought. Once I let go of that feeling of wanting to hold on to the things, remembering everything, keep a record of each piece, etc...it gave me such a liberating feeling. To answer your question, I do not have difficult time letting go of my pieces nowadays. Though, I still wish to keep some to remember back to certain times.

TT: Thanks so much Eunju for your thoughts and time. There is a lot of ground we haven't covered in this interview, is there anything you would like to add?

EK: Tim, I want to thank you so much for this interview. I looked forward to these late night questions…it gave me an opportunity to think about my art. I enjoyed it very much.


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