Open Door Interviews with James Pickens – Yeonsoo Kim

Posted April 7, 2023 in Blog

“Open Door Interviews” is an informal interview series developed in collaboration with HCCC and social media intern James Pickens, intended to give insight into our resident artists’ creative process. 

This past March, I joined Yeonsoo Kim in his studio to learn about his creative process. During our visit, Yeonsoo walked me through his artistic journey and gave insight into where his inspirations, message, and style stem from. Additionally, we touched on his experience at HCCC, and discussed what it’s like living in Houston after traveling for various artist residency programs. However, we began our conversation with an introduction to Yeonsoo and his craft.

The conversation that follows has been edited for length and clarity.

James Pickens: How long have you been an artist, and how did you begin working with ceramics?

Yeonsoo Kim: I’ve been working with art since high school, so almost 20 years. I loved drawing and painting first, and one of my teachers had a double major: painting and sculpture. So that’s why I’m experienced with clay.

JP: How would you describe your style or particular type of craft?

YK: I started off with the onggi demonstration, which is making big pots.

Left: Onggi at the Korean Cultural Center in Jangdokdae Japan, From Wikimedia Commons. Right: Onggi by Yeonsoo Kim in his studio at HCCC.

JP: When did you begin working with the onggi form?

YK: I’m really influenced by, and through, certain techniques. So that’s why I decided to pursue the apprenticeship with the masters. That totally changed my life because not only did it enhance my skill set, but also was like, you know, a life lesson. So not only practic[ing] every day in the studio, but also I can see the philosophy, and how to manage a studio. And I mean, in terms as an artist, how to start life.

JP: Where do you look for inspiration?

YK: You know, I often go to the museum and it’s still my favorite hobby. I look at a lot of good stuff and then some pieces really touch my heart and touch me. I say, “Oh, I want to make something like this.” And then, “I’ve never seen this one.” So I try to make something like that. So it’s a huge impact.

JP: Is media a part of your creation process?

YK: I often listen to music and sometimes listen to lectures. I like to see what’s out there. One of my favorite podcasts is about clay and the art field (Tales of a Red Clay Rambler). So I can hear about their own perspective and their own journey.

JP: How do you find new references?

YK: I like, you know, beauty, the Korean beauty. And then I was trying to find out my identity. I’m hugely influenced by Western culture, even though I grew up in Asia. But Nike, Jordan, that’s one of my heroes. And, you know, blue jeans and pop – Michael Jackson’s one of my heroes, too. So that’s why I try to sometimes mimic, and mix, my [influences] together. Everyone has their own favorite items. So that’s why I try to collect my own favorite items, which means that object, creature, being, memories, sense or story.

As Yeonsoo described his process of gathering information, I became curious about how and why he may incorporate certain inspirations into his practice. 

JP: What do you try to convey through your art?

YK: I try to do a diverse way of perspective. Which means, I try to do not only utilitarian pottery, but also make structures where I bring and condense 2D and 3D. I don’t know what’s the best way, but we are different and people have different perspectives, so that’s why I try to open many doors. Sometimes this way, sometimes that way, and if I’m feeling something I’ll do colors and drawing, or focus on making shapes and certain expressions.

JP: How has your ceramic art developed over the years?

YK: At the beginning, my art was simple. But somehow, since moving to the states, I’ve been trying to put more into each space. And that’s why I try to do storytelling and make something interesting. [I want] my work to bring something new, and that’s why I try to blend and collaborate. I even try to collaborate with my past self. Which means, when I look at my past work, I try to bring these moments and blend them together. And also, if I’m influenced by someone or a different inspiration, I try to put them together. I also spend a lot of time decorating. Sometimes it’s really stressful when I’m making something new. And I feel like, you know, I am just figuring out who I am as an artist.

Collaborative work between Yeonsoo Kim and Jihye Han. Photographed in his studio at HCCC.

In a prior conversation with Yeonsoo, he described to me how collaboration is always present in his work to some degree. While he collaborates with many other artists such as 2022 resident artist Jihye Han, Yeonsoo also spends much of his time contemplating who he is, who he’s been and who he may become. Within his art, he plays with these ideas by incorporating drawings, sketches, and 3D forms that represent stories, thoughts, and emotions that reflect his life experiences.

From here, our conversation changed course as I asked Yeonsoo to reflect upon his experiences as a resident artist and what it’s been like living here in Houston.

JP: How has working in different environments affected your practice?

YK: I feel like I’m just figuring out who I am as an artist. As human beings, we are hugely influenced by the environment. We see this in not only nature, but also [in] people and even structures and buildings. When I was in Montana, that location was really isolating somehow. But out of the studio I could see the deer just jumping into space, and [I] just say “hello,” and then I would just go walk outside and be in nature. And in terms as an artist, you know, sometimes isolation, is challenging

JP: How has living in Houston affected your practice?

YK: Since moving to Houston, you know, it’s been a good time to interact with people and get involved with the community. And also I’m enjoying going to opening receptions, meeting artists, and sharing our own perspectives and ideas.

To conclude our conversation, I asked Yeonsoo to tell me about the concepts and messages behind his work, how it’s changed, and what has influenced him the most since being in Houston.

YK: I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationships. First of all, I’ve been thinking about my relationship with myself, because I don’t want to just follow someone who says, “oh, this is the right way. This is more valuable for you,” stuff like that. When I was young, I didn’t know what my dream was. What did I really want to do? So, it’s been a good time to figure out who you are, who I am, and also what I really want to do. I love creating. I love making things. Making art is really meaningful for me because no one could make this work like me – so that’s the more valuable reason. And also I really like my work, and my job as an artist. So I hope the people enjoy my work and put the happiness and journeys into their life. Life is just too serious already. So I want to bring happiness to the people. Yeah, that’s the reason I make my work.

Part of the 2022-23 cycle of resident artists, Yeonsoo concludes his time in Houston in May 2023.