Art Stalk: The work of KyoungHwa Oh
Free Press Columnist
I finally met KyoungHwa Oh this month; I have passed her in exhibit spaces and we have been re-introduced many times. For two years now I have greeted her in passing. I am a busy woman and thank goodness it is commitments like this column that require me to slow down and talk of things bigger than my immediate tasks of exhibition label making and grant writing.
On most days I am struggling to just do what is needed to be done to get the finishing touches on an exhibit or to fundraise just to be able to have an arts event. But sitting and talking to artists and sharing ideas is really what makes life livable and what makes everything we do expansive and totally worth it.
KyoungHwa lived in Seoul, Korea — which by population is larger than New York City. It’s hard to imagine a city bigger than one of our own. So KyoungHwa told me she was a fashion designer right out of school and for five years worked for the large department store Lotte and then decided to leave the big city of Seoul at the age of 26 years.
During our studio visit I asked her what animals were in Seoul; she said “magpies, and if they sung by your window on New Year’s day then it would be good luck.” Still curious, I said “KyoungHwa, do you have monkeys, coyotes, bears and what does it look like there?” She said it is similar to here, but a big city and lower altitude. “And the grass in Seoul is not for walking on; in Seoul we don’t walk on the grass.” Seoul is a modern large city, but is over 2,000 years old, so it is a mixture of the old and the new. It’s a compression of many histories, but with terrain like eastern Colorado (mountains and grasslands).
So KyoungHwa Oh left Korea for Kansas to attend college at Washburn University in Topeka with no particular vision. She seemed to rotate towards the arts and worked in paintings of water and rain. She found that the process of painting was stressful to her and could only paint no more than five hours a day, but when she escaped to the clay studios she would work into the next morning. She moved toward the path of least resistance — like water her worked flowed in the direction ceramics.
She observes nature wherever she goes, mostly botanical, plants and organic forms. There are friendly and violent aspects of water and plant life; in fact KyoungHwa cannot swim and when actually confronted with her subject can feel a bit overpowered. Water is furious in storms and “other times calming and serene.”
“My life experiences and cultural background are the inspiration for my work. I create ceramic objects that reflect traditional Korean culture and western contemporary style. Eastern and western cultures are symbolically expressed through this language. Like Yin and Yang, my work encompasses the influence between traditional Asian values and modern Western society.”
I am very happy to hear that KyoungHwa has been appointed assistant professor on tenure track at Colorado Mesa University. She loves it here and when I asked her if she was ready to stay in Colorado she quickly said “Yes.”
Please visit http://www.kyounghwa.com to see more work and statements on her body of work. Her art pieces can be seen locally at The Art Center in May and June in the contemporary clay exhibit and other exhibits through CMU.
Camille Silverman holds a Masters of Fine Art from Cranbrook Art Academy located outside of Detroit, Mich. She attended Cranbrook as well as The School of the Chicago Art Institute. Silverman currently holds the position of curator and executive director at The Western Colorado Center for the Arts, aka The Art Center. The word “Stalk” is important because implies relentless pursuit, but also implies the idea of growth, as in “Jack and the beanstalk.”
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