Young Chun’s artwork plays out his emotional connections with the world around him, filtering them through his own unique pair of heart-shaped, diamante encrusted sunglasses, much like those worn by one of the glitzy female subjects in his paintings. Taking inspiration from his day-to-day life and the environments and experiences that it provides, Chun’s creative focus is placed heavily on his subjective responses to the world surrounding him, and he listens attentively to those inner musings and the imaginative and reflective wonderment they kindle. By distilling the feelings his thoughts generate, to their pure essence, Chun captures emotional truths which are intrinsically his own, but which we are all in a privileged position to share, and by doing so, possibly realising some important truths of our own.
Young Chun was born a minister’s son in 1977 in Seoul, Korea, before his family moved to the United States when he was a toddler. After graduating with a BFA from Art Center College of Design, in Pasadena, California in 2000, Young left the field of art for a number of years, before returning to it professionally in 2011. Since then, he has gone on to exhibit his works internationally.
WOW x WOW is thrilled to have had a recent opportunity to speak with Young about his striking and engaging paintings. Read the following exclusive interview to get a better understanding of the thoughts and inspirations behind the work of this intriguing young artist.
If you could please start us off by introducing yourself and talking about your background, touching on anything you feel has been relevant to shaping Young Chun the artist?
Sure. I was born in Seoul, South Korea, and moved to the states when I was 2 or 3 years old. I grew up in a religious household, as my father was a Presbyterian pastor, of a church, in the San Fernando Valley. I received my formal art training from the Art Center College of Design, in Pasadena. After graduating, I worked briefly as an illustrator in the production and commercial industries, and at the same time I was trying to get my fine art seen in galleries. Then, for whatever reason, I became a respiratory therapist, and worked in that field for a while, before I resumed my work as a full time artist.
We’re interested to hear about where you’re currently living and what you like about the area? What is the art scene like there and do you feel a part of that community? Are these aspects of your existence that are important to your creativity?
Yeah, they are. My art is inspired by many things, such as past memories, music, certain sub-cultures, and the people living in my environment. I think these things indirectly impact the imagery I create. Orange County, where I currently, live, is home to many tourist attractions, including the world famous theme parks. Living here can be a bit surreal; a mixture between the imaginary world and real life. It’s close to some of the galleries I show in, including the ones in LA and in Venice, California. I guess the art scene here is like every other art scene; a combination of creatives, intellects, some big shots, some hippie types, some pretentious wannabe’s, and a few weirdos. What’s not to like?
What’s your first memory related to art?
I remember when I was a kid, I was always impressed whenever the older kids in my church’s bible study took the opportunity to draw real cool pictures of weird things in their notebooks. To me, the act of taking an image or an idea that initially exists in your mind, something that’s imagined, and then bringing it into reality by drawing it, was always impressive; because you’re taking something that, is non-existent, something that’s not tangible, and by drawing it, you bring it into the real world, as a tangible and visible form. So, I would try to do the same and draw weird things in my notebook. Things like robots and unicorns; and the more I drew, the better I got at it. I guess one of my earliest memories related to art, was drawing in those spiral bounded notebooks, during Sunday school as a kid. Like those older kids, I too seized the moment’s opportunity to up my drawing skills, all the while learning about Jesus, of course.
After graduating, you spent years working within the healthcare field as a respiratory therapist, helping people who were faced with life and death situations. In what ways do the memories of your experiences during that time affect the art you make today?
I think that everything I’ve come across in my life, has influenced my work in some way shape or form; either directly or indirectly. I think during this period of my life, I wanted to try other things out. Maybe learn more about life in general and acquire substance, or some sort of foundation to who I was. Maybe, I wanted to know more about myself? I guess deep down inside, I knew that I was going to be doing art for the rest of my life. So, I wanted to experience doing something else for a bit, before I really got started with living my life as a full time artist. I think that, this experience has helped to add depths within my own life; and also to think about some deep…weird shit, like the cycle of life, and the thought of existing amidst a much unknown universe, in which we live. All of this is something that is subtly represented in my paintings, by the way. I mean, I saw babies being born and people dying, on a daily basis. I’m sure it influenced my work in some way.
How do you approach the central figures within your paintings and the symbolism they carry with them? Would you be willing to share something about the development of their appearance and how you project meaning through that?
Most of the images that I paint are conceived first in my mind, as a reaction to a certain feeling I’m experiencing. They evolve in my mind naturally. Sometimes over a period of time and other times instantly. So, I don’t initially choose to decipher or to make sense even, of the elements in them. I try to capture what I see in my mind onto the canvas I paint on, exactly as I see them. I try not to focus on the symbolic meaning of things; because it doesn’t really matter to me, whether or not it makes any sense, when the image is picked apart. It matters to me, that the painting as a whole captured what I was feeling, at the time the image was conceived; because it’s really what I’m feeling that I’m trying to capture and convey to others.
How personal or autobiographical do you allow your art to get? When you look back at certain pieces or larger collections of your own works, do they remind you of certain events or eras in your life?
Yeah of course, they remind me of what I was feeling at the time I painted them. They’re like diaries that visually document my feelings, at certain moments of my life. I’m not consciously thinking about how much of myself I’m revealing through my work. My paintings may reveal something to me later, that I myself was not aware of, when I was painting them. But it’s not where my focus is when I paint. I simply try to capture the image in my mind, in order to express what I’m feeling; because I’m not very good with words or trying to express myself with words. To me, my paintings are not necessarily narrative or conceptual, or even symbolic, as visual as they are. They’re more melodic to me, like music. Not sure if that makes any sense, to anyone?
Have there been occasions when images you’ve created have revealed something to you after their completion; something that maybe you hadn’t been consciously thinking about while making them? If so, we’d love to hear about one such occasion.
I like to imagine, that the characters I paint look through the lenses of their sunglasses, as if they’re looking through a window, into our world; with great fascination and curiosity. The glasses allow their eyes to see all the beautiful and wonderful things in this world. This wasn’t something that I initially had in mind or was consciously thinking about, when I first started to paint these types of pictures. But, it was something that I thought about, after painting so many of these images with characters who wear these over-sized, heart-shaped, glasses. The thought of this made me want to keep painting these types of pictures.
Where does your focus lie when you’re painting?
Where does my focus lie when I’m painting… hmm… let’s see… I guess, that I want to paint the image in my mind, before it starts to fade away. It’s weird, as vividly as I see them in my mind before I start painting them, they start to fade as soon as I lay the brush down onto the canvas. It’s like I’m literally transferring the picture, from one place ‘my mind’, to another, ‘the canvas’. Once I initiate the transfer, the image in my mind starts to disappear. So, I have to try and remember what the image originally looked like in my head, as I’m painting it. Sometimes I sketch it out or take notes. But if I hold off on painting it all the way through and pick up on it sometime later, it’s hard to remember what the picture looked like exactly, or what it was, I was feeling, that evoked the picture in my mind. So, aesthetically speaking, I want the painting to capture the original design, composition, and colors of the picture I imagined, to convey my feelings. Sometimes I want certain areas of the painting to be more keyed into the background and other times I want certain areas to appear more vivid and sharp. I guess, the focus is different from piece to piece; depending on what it is I want to express. If that makes any sense?
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were first starting down the path of becoming and artist?
Not a whole lot more, to be honest. I guess, I feel like I’m still just at the beginning stages, of developing into the artist I want to be. I know it sounds funny, because it’s been a while now, since I graduated from art school. I mean, there’s probably a whole lot more I should have figured out by now. I should be able to instil some words of wisdom, to your readers. So, I apologize if I have nothing good to say, besides…uh… follow your dreams? But, I will say this. I knew it was going to be challenging to live life as an artist, since everyone kept telling me that; but really – every day is a hustle living life as an artist!
Most artists will agree upon the importance of continually setting yourself new creative goals and challenges? In what ways have you seen your work evolve since youstarted down the path of being a professional artist and what new ways do you envisage pushing yourself in the near future?
I have noticed a natural evolution within my work. Subtle changes here and there. I don’t consciously direct this progression within my art. I sort of let it evolve naturally. I don’t exactly know, where I’m heading with all of this, my art that is. But, I feel like it’s about to be kicked up a notch.
In order to get a better understanding of the personality of an artist, it can help to get a peek behind the curtain. Would you be willing to share a story from your own life, possibly one whose memory you find yourself returning to for inspiration, or maybe just a tale about a hardship you’ve overcome which has helped define the person and therefore artist that you are now?
There were little hardships here and there, but nothing that I couldn’t overcome. Whatever hardships I’ve endured, I feel like there are people in this world who went through a lot more. I think for the most part of my life, I’ve been quite fortunate. I’ve had more than enough and feel grateful for every day of my wonderful life. Also, the little hardships I’ve overcome, have really been like blessings in some ways, because it has made me stronger; and I do look to my past memories as inspiration.
If you could own one piece of art from any of the world’s collections what would it be and why?
No particular reason why, but it would be crazy to own the first Pieta themed sculpture that Michelangelo had done when he was only 24. Imagine having that displayed in your living room! That piece is probably my favorite of his; and he has done so many spectacular pieces, throughout his lifetime. I think it would remind me, that I have to try a lot harder.
What’s next for Young Chun?
I’ll be participating in the ‘Art Collector Starter Kit 4’ – group show, curated by Caro, at Corey Helford Gallery, in Los Angeles, opening April 1st. This exhibition will be exciting, for sure! It will allow collectors the chance to collect some exceptional art, which is also more accessible, by some of the worlds most sought after artists!