Artists Living Room NYC
” Nothing is under control, and everything changes so easily. Even though it sounds helpless and impotent, I accept it as more of a journey or an adventure”.
— Yooyeon Nam
Yooyeon Nam is an artist based in Brooklyn, NY. She graduates from Pratt Institute. After studying business and working in an office, Yooyeon decided to follow her initial passion for painting. Yooyeon is fascinated by the strange nature of relationships and the uncertainty of life. In her paintings, one can feel the bizarreness and struggles. The worlds she creates are full of tensions, and they are going on so strongly and quietly at the same time. Yooyeon’s great observation and sensitivity as an artist show us her reflections on a quiet storm that each of us might have our own. When stepping into Yooyeon’s mysterious world full of weird doll-like characters, one would be surprised to get a sense of familiarity, like your mind had been here before.
Artists Living Room invites you to explore Yooyeon Nam’s strange and intimate world through our virtual gallery and interview with the artist.
The Artist is Present
I got to know Yooyeon Nam in 2021. She walks fast and talks bluntly. We had a few long conversations but weren’t very close. When I saw Yooyeon’s whole series of paintings Kidnapped in the show, I was amazed by her use of colors and narrative. Even though I didn’t see many of Yooyeon’s previous paintings in person, I could tell she has gotten more confident when creating her own language in the new series. It was also the first time I felt her soft and sensitive sides. The paintings touched me, and I believe it is due to Yooyeon’s openness when creating the works. I immediately decided to schedule an interview with Yooyeon to learn more about the ideas behind her work.
Nuo: It was amazing to see your new series Kidnapped. My first impression was there were a lot of figures and strange places. I remember that relationships have been a constant theme in your previous works. Is the idea the same behind your new series? And why name it Kidnapped?
Yooyeon: Thank you for visiting my thesis show, Kidnapped. The idea behind the new series is still the same. I have been trying to express the weird and strange nature of the world and relationships. The figures themselves are modeled after the exaggeration of my own appearance. Not everyone would agree that they look like me, but it is how I see myself, with a round face and horizontally short lips. I intentionally paint the characters cute and adorable to make my strange narratives stronger in contrast.
Kidnapped is named because nothing is under control, and everything changes so easily. Even though it sounds helpless and impotent, I accept it as more of a journey or an adventure. My life has been like that, from studying business to painting in the U.S. It has been a wonderful and unexpected journey. Paintings are also like that. No painting comes out to be the exact copy of my first idea. I am kidnapped as an artist; paintings are kidnapped; the figures in the paintings are kidnapped, and the viewers are kidnapped to the world I made.
I wonder why in Kidnapped you shifted from painting the figures based on the people around you like before? Isn’t it a way to express the relationships you experienced more intimately?
I realized that I need to stop using figures modeled after people around me to talk about general relationships, which are more open to interpretation. The tensions in the works are now more open to a variety of interpretations. They can be more personal to the viewers since it has no connection to the artist’s families and acquaintances. Also, the relationships I am talking about now are not only about relationships with people but also between a person and the world, two different worlds and a person and even an object and another object.
Luminous sources appear in some of the paintings. Are you particularly interested in light as a symbol?
I don’t have them as symbols. I started to paint in dark colors last autumn and to have the dark colors, something must be under shadow or in the dark. Having luminous sources is more of a formalist decision to have a dark part, not really a narrative decision. Technical and narrative decisions grow simultaneously, but it is still more about technical decisions. So, each light in each painting symbolizes different things.
I know that particular personal stories inspire some of these paintings. Would you share one of them?
Most of my recent paintings are inspired by my own imagination, which might relate to my personal stories unconsciously, but I don’t fully know all of them. I would like to share two paintings that are based on specific situations.
I often listen to some radio about social-political issues when I paint. This painting is based on my feelings when listening to news that makes me feel very bizarre. I thought of the situation in Korea, and I felt like many people, including me, are flowing into a storm without intending it as if we are all kidnapped into the turmoil of country-scale conflict.
This painting, “Kidnapped,” was inspired by the same conflict that I and two girls were facing during the preparation of the show. (Three girls are suffering, so I had three characters touching each other’s chins.)
Problems and conflicts repeat over and over again – even historically- and even our ancestors from a million years ago would have had similar problems. Infinite problems and conflicts are the main themes of the painting, and we don’t know how the problems will be solved/get worse / fade away, so problems themselves are kidnapped, without knowing their fate. I thought about the repeating nature of the conflict, and they are like twins and triplets, not the same but like each other.
Thank you for digging into your paintings with us. I think it will also be nice for our readers to get to know you personally and your working style more.
Are you a morning or a night person? What time of the day do you usually paint?
I am an evening person! My ideal schedule is to wake up at 10-11 a.m. and go to bed at 2-3 a.m. I usually paint from 4-11 p.m. and have dinner in between.
Do you have any habits when painting?
I usually listen to the radio about politics and social issues. But when I really need to concentrate, I listen to music. I don’t listen to anything when I need to really concentrate. I usually prepare a cup of coffee before starting the whole painting session.
What do you want to do the most when you have a day off?
I rarely have a day off, and I have a mental issue when I do not have any work. However, if I can have a day off truly, I want to go to the beach where nobody knows and do nothing. My phone is one of the main reasons that I cannot rest since new things come up every moment, and I need to answer my friends and other contacts, so a true rest will also be a day without smartphones. I even want to stop thinking about artwork if a real day off is possible for me.
Are you reading any books recently? Would you recommend one for us?
I have been reading a fantasy novel, Children of the Rune, which I loved as a teenager. I started to read it to forget about my reality right now, from which I want to escape. Reading the book makes me feel like being sent to a new world. I often feel stressed when I come back from it, but it is a good way to reminisce about my childhood though.
Would you share a movie that you love and feel inspirational?
My favorite movie is “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” directed by Charlie Kaufman and released in 2020. It was the only movie I watched again right after the first time. It is hard to explain the plot since everything is a metaphor. Solving the metaphor puzzle is my favorite hobby when watching movies. There are so many things to realize in the second watch.
The movie is about the despair that can’t be overcome. Extremely gloomy, but it really represents the fear of living a life that isn’t meaningful to anyone, including myself, which no one can avoid. Nobody wants to live like the characters in the film, however, we are all like them a bit in some senses. I think the movie is pinpointing the fear we all share as mortals and trying to convince us that we need to see the otherness in ourselves, which gives us the tension of life since life without otherness is impossible. We identify and define ourselves only through otherness. Besides, the Mise-en-Scène is great in the movies with dark colors, which I love in my own paintings. I have never watched a film like this before!
Who would be your favorite artist if you have to pick one?
This is a hard question. If I really need to pick only one, I will choose Lee Quede, a Korean artist, who was almost forgotten by the public since he went to North Korea when the country split, and he did not have much freedom to paint what he wanted to paint after that. His works left behind in South Korea have been reintroduced recently. He is a figure painter, excellent in drawing, good at dark colors, and interesting compositions – which are all that I want to have in my painting as well – and his paintings are about Zeitgeist, which was about people losing their lives and people struggling to survive and pursue freedom against imperialism and dictatorship. Even without knowing the historical background, if you see the paintings, you can feel that people are struggling and fighting. The only problem about being a fan of his works is that it is so hard to find his paintings in high resolution on Google! The painting I am sharing here is called “Situation.” I even made a fan account on Instagram since nobody archived his works…