Jennifer Kang

June 2019,

Chicago

Starting this magazine, the first artist I wanted to interview was Jennifer. As she had said, "artist to artist, you know my work best". 

To me, there is an unapologetic interior to Jennifer's soft exteriors, as a mirror of her work, one can easily enter into an appearance of a childlike world that present surprises, as her works delve into topics of grief, loss of innocence, and fear.

Having known Jennifer for 4 years, first meeting in our general ed class in college. Then becoming close friends, artist collaborators in recent years; and now moving on to working individually, I felt like there was a part of Jennifer that I had yet discovered.

 

Easily coerced into my incessant pestering for a home-cooked Korean meal, I invited myself into her home in search of food, comfort, and chatter.

I enter Jennifer's home, where she lives and works. As she prepares our food, I wander into her living area; her studio; her kitchen; her bathroom; her back porch; navigating her space. I had fallen into an easy stance, and it wasn't until month's later, that I had interviewed her. 

( I promise you, that this is not about food)

She would always call herself delicate, yet it never felt like an act of weakness. Her recognition that we were all fragile, but nonetheless brave enough to put our inner thoughts into the world.

What are three words that you would use to describe your work?

  I had a hard time coming up with three, but they would be: intimacy, poetic, and semiotics.

I write on my works, but they are eligible, that only I know what is going on, I am writing poems through symbols. I showed George (her mentor) and he said felt very poetically immersive.

In speaking of George Liebert, a professor from the School of the Art Institue of Chicago, that we had both studied under, Jennifer requested that I write about him. 

   Because of him, I developed my love for paper and was able to distinguish my style. It's funny how many other students had taken George's class, and continued to do so for 4 years, that we all are influenced by his choice of materials. Using the same papers, similar materials like watercolor, acrylics, and pastels, yet the outcomes are all drastically different.

  It was when I started my fourth year of college, that George stopped talking about my works, but about things like yoga, and that was when I felt more comfortable to open up about a lot of the subject matters I was trying to convey. 

We all need mentors like that

Having known your works for so long, and you! Your works have evolved so much from four years ago, what has changed? How has your style progressed?

   So many things have changed, I remember I used to bring my paintings back to your room, the squiggly lines, the bubbles, I thought they looked so good.

   They were all happy thoughts;  because it felt like that was all I could explore. You know how I grew up really coddled, and I was really sheltered, and I didn't know how to express myself, so I painted these abstract forms that lacked genuine intention. It wasn't until I came to Chicago, that I started to experience new things, I began to fear more. I now find similarities to my old works, maybe... picking at my past.

It wasn't until BOOK OF FEARS, that I started to experiment with darker colors, and subjects, it helped me start a different path. I began to try and narrate more, becoming more descriptive. But now I am working with abstraction again, I didn't want to say much about my art, I wanted people to feel. 

I started to experience new things, I began to fear more

How do you work now, what have you been working with recently?

   I have been using Japanese papers that are really delicate tearable, to frame my works. My delicate self, framing my world. I begin with a frame at the start of every piece. 

What is it about frames? For me, I physically have to draw a frame as well, to complete a piece. 

   Framing it is like me jumping in, I'm mentally preparing myself, that it is time to unleash my world. I also end with fixing the frame, gluing it together. I know the edges are fragile, that if I ship it can break. 

You're okay with it breaking? 

   No of course not! I won't be okay, but I'll repair it, put it back together.

I noticed that you have these sculptural elements in your works, is there a decisive decision with your choice of material, as the wood contrasts with your delicate edges?

   Well, in the beginning, I just wanted to make it pop, I wanted my viewers to see it first. My sculptural elements are like signs, symbols that represent fear and loss, an unknown path. I want the audience to feel, rather than me telling them how to feel. 

Your shapes are still very whimsical, childlike and easy to enter.

   I want the viewers to be drawn to the playfulness so that they can access the work, and then decide for themselves what it means for them. 

I know you talk about your current works as these signs, the sculptural shapes are like road signs to me, maybe even warning signs. They bring comfort to you as you make them. As they express your fear of loss and prepare you for grief. For me, they also feel like letters. I remember you telling me about your works, even thinking back now, I can feel your emotions. 

Your fear of loss, and prepare you for grief

train of DEATH 2019

Delicate enough to enter

For you, painting is a cathartic action? How do you get into the working zone?

   I just get into it, can you say that? Each day is different, some days the clouds that I draw are sad, others they are happy clouds. That's why I love working every day. I am a fast worker. 

 

Can I say "urgently"?

   Yes, urgency, to just get it out, if I like it, I keep it, If I don't feel anything for it, I trash it. Like a gut reaction. 

 

I think somehow we have all been trained to work very slowly, iteratively, which is also good, but I think each artist works very differently, and whichever way works for them is what matters. 

 I don't want to keep editing, because it will ruin my initial thought process. 

I have always wondered about other artists, how much does emotion and aesthetic play into your works, does one matter more than the other? Both, I want it to feel delicate enough to enter. 

I know that your studio is in your home, does it matter to you where you work? 

   I just need a space to create, a floor really. And materials, that it.

Lastly, what is your interpretation of Artistic License?

   It is a way of creating my own reality, my art is a very distorted version of my imagination and reality that I keep going back to. 

   Normally, when people ask you what you do for a living, they would say their money-making job. When people ask me what I do, I say that I am an artist. I paint, it is my passion. 

All photos shot in Jennifer's home, Chicago 2019

Artwork images courtesy of the artist

https://www.jyekang.com/