Exclusive Interview with Artist Yesora Song

Your work is magical! How did you begin your creative journey as an artist?

I was a little girl in Korea who loves drawings, paintings, and crafts. Monet and Gogh were my favorite artists and I’ve dreamt to be one of the great artists like every other little artistic kid.

Thankfully, my parents were supportive, so I started to walk on the path to become a real artist. When I was 16, I got an opportunity to move to New York. I wasn’t a book smart girl at that time, so my English was pretty bad. However, I wanted to follow my path and challenge myself, so I moved to New York where my cousin was studying abroad. Although my cousin, MyungJi, was still young at that time, she was like a parent, sibling, and manager to me. She was always supportive and encouraging.

I was a shy girl who did not want to stand in front of people, but she helped me to find a gallery to exhibit my works and introduce myself as an artist. I had a few group shows in that gallery which made me gain more confidence in my works and myself. After she graduated college, she went back to Korea and we walked on our own paths separately, still supporting each other.

I became much more confident, but I still had a concern as an artist; not having a clear style of my own. I adopted many different skills, so I could easily have many styles, if I say so in a good way, but I did not have a distinct style. So while I was studying, I was very much confused in the beginning.

Throughout many struggles, I’ve learned that I am into figurative dreamy paintings and magical lights.

What was your training like? Who influenced your work?

When I was 14, I studied in an art academy. I’ve learned structures, and basic logic of how to paint a form; the stages of highlight, mid tone, shadow, and reflected light. I’ve improved a lot my eye for logical form throughout this learning process.

However, Korean people will be familiar with this kind of academies.. they push students to make a finished still life painting in 3-4 hours because the academies are for the test. So, I had 1-2 tests in a day and 3 when it was getting close to the test day.

I’m the type of person who doesn’t know how time flies if she gets focused, so I was able to handle it, but I was exhausted painting like a robot. In the long run, I believe that this training helped me to build a good foundation. After I moved to New York, it was a completely different world.

Even though I was preparing for college, it was not as strict or repetitive. I wasn’t practicing anymore, I was truly "creating" as an artist.

I was quite lost when I just started to make paintings in the U.S. because I no longer had rules or formula to follow anymore. I started to question myself, what do I want to paint? And that question was always hard.

Thus, at this point of my life, I explored many different subjects in my paintings; portraits, landscapes, still life, and abstract which improved my creativity a lot. I could truly enjoy painting itself.

Then, I continued learning art by entering School of Visual Arts, where I met a professor who influenced my works the most.

He was an encouraging and inspiring professor of a painting class. I had never used oil paint before, and he’s the one who taught me. In his class, I’ve done many figurative paintings and I loved it.

I always enjoyed portrait paintings, but with oil painting, I was able to make deeper, and more expressive faces and atmospheres. 

Also, he is the one who made me fall in love with light and dreamy spaces. When I saw his paintings for the first time, I was simply amused. His paintings showed me how a single light can make multiple colors and moods in different settings. His lectures about light and the hero's journey was hard to understand at first, but eventually inspired me a lot.

That’s when Lotus, one of my adored paintings was created. Although I’ve gained more confidence by exhibitions like I mentioned earlier, I am a quiet introverted person by nature, so I didn’t chat with the professor much. I wish I had shared more about art with him.

What's your biggest achievement?

It would be winning the first place of 6th Congressional District Art Competition, “An Artistic Discovery”.

I participated in the competition with Subway, a charcoal drawing of NYC subway station. Subway was displayed for one year in the Cannon Tunnel, a heavily traveled corridor of the United States Capitol.I believe that the black and white image of a mundane life in NY subway was relatable to many people.

Otherwise, all the exhibitions I’ve done were also great achievements. I had several group shows in Ouchi gallery.

It was located on the fifth floor of a hundred-year-old historic building in Brooklyn, New York. It was originally a shoe factory, then became an art gallery and a home to talented young artists from around the world to showcase their art and make progress toward their dreams.

I’ve participated in multiple group shows as MADE IN NY, YES, What You Perceive in 2020. I had my first group show there which makes it even more special to me.

It was amazing to see other artists’ different approaches on the same theme and was very meaningful and memorable experiences.

What is the most important project you have worked on and why?

I would say Hunting is one of my most important projects. Some people say it reminds them of Saint Sebastian. However, it was inspired by Frida Kahlo’s The Wounded Deer. It starts with an episode. One day, I was heading back home as usual. I took the subway, and was standing next to the pole. An elderly guy started talking to me. I thought it was an American thing again; Korean people don’t usually talk to strangers in streets, but I noticed that Americans talk to strangers more freely. He asked me where I’m from. I said Korea. Then, he asked when I came to America, so I said a few years ago. I thought he was just an old guy who’s interested in tourists which is quite racist to begin with but I got used to it. However, I started to feel weird with the next questions. “Where do you live?” and “Do you live alone?” Now that I think about it, I was stupid to even answer to those questions, but I said I have roommates. And then, here he goes, “Do you wanna hangout with me?”

I got shocked and scared, so I said no and left the train. This is not the first time that I experienced men catcalling me. Subway trains are the worst place to be in, if that happens to you. You are trapped with this guy until it arrives in the next station. I was disgusted and upset that I have to experience this just because I am a woman. That’s when I decided to make a painting about it. In the painting, I am sitting down in the middle of a forest getting shot. I am wearing a suit symbolizing power. The arrows are the eyes and words I have to deal with. The pink light on me means the perception of me for being a woman.

The world is cold and seems like nobody’s going to help. No matter what you wear and how real you are as a person, some people see you as a deer or rabbit to hunt for fun.

I am being hunted, but I am not running away. I don’t really paint about politics or social problems.

I paint what I adore and something very personal; my life, nature, family, and friends. This painting is also not to say, let’s talk about social problems, but more of, let me share my story and I’m here to hear your story too...

What does the future look like for you in the next year with your art?

Last year, I started working on mural projects with other artists. They are quite commercial jobs compared to my own works, but I am enjoying it. The biggest project I’ve done so far is the St Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church.

My co-working artists and I painted Saints for the Church.

Sometimes, I have to paint in certain styles, so I research references to match with the styles...Because of my experiences in the Korean academy and exploring different styles, I became flexible of what style I can paint, and now that I can be myself on my own personal works, I am able to enjoy this mural works sort of as an adventure or another learning journey. It would be great to continue working on murals in the future.I would like to continue working on my own works as well. 

Last few months, the number of Covid-19 cases was going through the roof and I couldn’t go to work. So I visited Korea last month, and luckily Korea was dealing with the virus well, so I’ve visited a lot of forests and mountains. I was fascinated and shocked that I did not realize how beautiful the nature of Korea was. After I came back to New York, I began working on landscapes, and decided to paint more portraits, incorporating nature as I did in Lotus and Hunting.

Also in relation to the "Hunting" painting, I’m planning on sharing more of my stories as an Asian woman. As an artist, it is not easy to be satisfied with my works, but I definitely am still growing.

I hope I will make paintings that touch people’s hearts. I’m very much looking forward to exploring and having fun.

-  Yesora Song