Political, present, intelligent, the work of Shin-Young An is all of the above. Her work draws on current events and captivates the nonchalance with which they are regarded by society so removed. She is truly a forward thinking, critical and unique voice. Check out the interview:
Where are you from, where are you now and what brought you there?
I am from South Korea, but am currently residing in Cliffside Park, New Jersey. Back in Korea, after I graduated college with a major in visual design, I was an art instructor for ten years in my private school that I had started. However, I was never satisfied with my artwork. I believed that I needed to study figurative art to build a solid fundamental knowledge of my own art—to express my emotional feelings and ideas. With my desire to pursue more knowledge in the field, I stopped teaching in 1995 and moved to New York City. I decided to re-study Fine Arts, especially Figurative Art, which included learning the human body from live models and old masters from history, which is the most fundamentally important skill needed to produce a good piece. Through the value of the artistic mastery, I believe that it can break the boundaries of traditions for the unlimited creativity. Without that, I may become “A House of Cards.”
Your work portrays people doing very mundane and typical things, as if oblivious to the events in the world around them, do you think this is an accurate analysis of today’s culture? Do you think there is something more that people could do that they are not doing?
All my pieces portray ordinary peoples’ daily lives who are at peace, at rest, and unconcerned juxtaposed with unfortunate real world images and articles. I believe the first step for solving any problems is to recognize the events that are affecting the world. I hope people can be aware of a critical mind of themselves through my art work
Why do you consider yourself somewhat powerless as an artist? Do you think your art raises important questions? Do you think people will understand those questions when they see your art?
I consider myself powerless in a sense due to the fact that I cannot change or resolve problems practically through my talent. For example, the war and/or people who are indifferent about problems that are affecting our world are some problems and issues that my talent as a portraiture cannot resolve. It’s an unfortunate reality of life that I face and have accepted.
One article on June 16, 2006 was about Bill Gates’ plans to departure from Microsoft. This article impressed me because it showed how Bill Gates had decided to turn his attention to philanthropy and away from “Microsoft,” one of the biggest and richest companies in the world. After reading this article, I had difficulty sleeping that night. Through my deep thoughts and feelings, I finally realized that focusing on my portraiture was being greedy in the sense that I was only focusing my talents on self-referencing work. Following Gates’ lead, I tried to give up what I was adept to and what I was accustomed to, which was using my talents to paint only portraits of figures, and moved towards my new limbs series in order to express my opinion and spread awareness about our current society. As I looked through many newspaper articles for my art work, I realized even more that I had been so ignorant about many unfortunate and horrible events around the world such as wars, natural disasters, diseases and sicknesses, poverty, crimes, and corruption.
I would like to leave viewer’s emotionally moved through my art work. I also hope that they can become aware that peace and conflict can coexist through my art work.
How do you decide which news articles to highlight with your work? What do you think are some of the more influential or memorable headlines that will be remembered from the last decade?
Not only do I use current new articles that have had an impact on me, but also I use actual newpapers about these historical events in order to preserve it for the future.
I believe printed newspapers will not exist in the future due to the rapidly developing technology. This is why I have created pieces with the title, “Clicking,” “A Breaking News,” and “Enlarged Screen,” because that is what we do to learn about the news recently.
Obama became a President of USA, Massacres by Gun Violence in America and Norway, War and Suicide bombs in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Middle Eastern Revolution, Disasters by earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, and Tsunamis in Indonesia and Pakistan, and etc.
I have always had a concern for political movements in Korea as well as good news about Korean athletes, Korean pop singers, and Korean movies. Visual arts is becoming popular in the world, which makes me very thrilled.
Do you read the paper often? What do you think of the media’s portrayal of issues? Do you think the American media has a different portrayal of issues than other countries?
Yes, almost every day.
Time will judge about the truth of present realities in History. I read the New York Times, the Record, some Korean newspapers, and some daily free newspapers whenever I go to NYC. I also listen to the news through various English and Korean medias like pod casts, the radio, the Internet, and TV.
What do you think the role of the artist is in society? How does it differ, if at all, from the job of the teacher, the police officer, or the doctor? Do you think any one job is more important to society than the others?
I hope it positively affects society. I think there is art in every field as if “Life is art itself.”. Most jobs accompanied with artistry are done with passion and true heart. For example, parents put in their best efforts for their baby to grow well just like artists put in their best efforts in producing their art work. It’s a very interesting observation of how the human life development process is very similar to the art work process. Every job comes from societies’ needs and has its own role to improve our society by connecting and helping each other. However, we need self-reflection. Without retrospection of ourselves, our society cannot survive. We can survive till reality from learning from the past, and we can see and create the future through correcting the problems of the present.
You received your BFA from a Women’s University, what do you think of segregation of sexes for education purposes? What ways do you think being at a Women’s University enhanced your education? In what ways was it hampered?
I am against segregation of sexes for education. Some people may call it a bit conservative, but slowly, Korea is becoming less conservative. My university, for example, transformed into a coed school several years after I graduated.
What work earned you the 2011 Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on Arts? What pieces did you complete during the Fellowship? How did your work and you personally progress during the Fellowship?
My Limbs Series work earned the 2011 Fellowship from NJ State Council on Arts..
I completed many pieces including the following:
“Striking a Match”
“Joining Candles for Light”
“A Breaking News”
“Enlarged the Screen”
I appreciated the honor incredibly, it gave me confidence in my career, which led me to focus on my art work even more in addition to having faith in my art. I am still learning a lot by reading and experimenting. I can never stop learning life lessons from art.
When painting, where do you start and where do you finish? Why are those the beginning and end points? What do you think that says about you personally?
I wake up with ideas in the morning with the story of the issues that have touched me. I combine those articles and cut the significant images and stories from the newspapers and then mount them on canvas while thinking of composition. I try to think how viewers would feel when observing my piece. My hope is that the artwork attracts them first and motivates them to look closer to the details of the issues surrounding the art and news. Hopefully, my artwork will arouse sympathy by highlighting the unfortunate realities of life and sometimes, highlighting those who are apathetic about current events. I hope my art pieces can also make people comfort from awareness of true life like Chaplin, Charlie said “life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot”.
However, I would also like to have an affect on the viewer’s emotional feelings, leaving them with many questions.
Simply, my goal is to finish a painting to show the essences of meaning the piece won’t directly portray.
What do you think that says about you personally?
I am unsure of what I can do for the future in order to reduce my feelings of guilt, but I am sure that I have learned greatly through my recent work processes. Without self-reflection, I cannot improve as an artist. Without giving up portrait painting, I cannot obtain interesting ideas for my new art work. I realized that we can get more through giving rather than taking.
What are you working on right now?
This year is a big year for the elections. I am concerned about what will happen in November & December. I believe the great politicians can move people and their country the right way for reconciliation and peace. I believe great politics can be transformed to great arts too.
I am collecting articles about anti-American turmoil in the Middle East, the Chinese demonstration against Japan, and about political movements that are occurring around the world. As I collect these articles, I am also painting portraits on gun violence articles and experimenting new ideas of work for the climate issue.
I am also preparing for a solo exhibition called “Winds of Change” in the spring of 2012 (February 25, 2013 to March 24, 2013) at the “Azarian McCullough Art Gallery” in St. Thomas Aquinas College, NY.
What’s an awesome idea that you had recently that may not necessarily be possible, whether right now or ever, but you’d love to share with people?
It would be impossible to copy my paintings, which are painted on actual newspapers. I often use and paint my old paintings, however I have gotten bored very quickly.
I did make a new piece called “Peace?” which took 2 years to complete. I experimented the new painting style, which combines the abstract and minimal way of painting, but is produced in a realistic way. If you observe the painting close up, you will see a candle light, in which the middle of it has names of soldiers. There is also drop of tear, which is formed like a question mark that is located between photographs of dead soldiers and a candle. Although this is what it looks like close up, if you see it from afar, it just appears to be abstract forms of circles and symbols of peace with the color red. It still has questions such as “Peace by War?”
I am also experimenting the new minimal or abstract way of painting combined with realistic way for the climate issue. I hope this can be successfully done in the near future. I am also interested all kinds of visual arts based on reality to find the truth in the human form and to translate that into my own vision of natural beauty.