Fantastic drawings by Toronto based artist Haejung Lee. Her work is beautifully composed and contains a subtle sense of humor that we really appreciate. The main influence in the work of South Korean-born, Toronto-based artist Haejung Lee are the little details that make up a person. I sit down and discuss the usual…creative process, films, and a few other topics of interest! Read below for the full Q&A…
You once said that you make art because you feel the need to. What provokes this thought process? Is it the lack of the kind of art you feel needs to be in the world, or is it the need to be creative to be happy in your life?
Haejung: I’ve always had this obsession of writing things down. Even the small little things, when I think of it, I need to find a pen and paper. After a while, I end up with these writings everywhere, in a random page of a book, sticky note on a wall or in my phone. Its the same thing with my drawings. I have these urges to always make works when I think feel inspired. So, its kind of neither, not that it makes me happy or satisfied like eating ice-cream on a hot summers day, but it is almost innate drive like blinking your eyes to keep the from drying out. If that makes any sense.
What type of pressure or expectations do you encounter participating in exhibitions before the fact you have completed your formal education?
Haejung: I’ve only really had one major exhibition so far, which was the Artist Project Toronto last year. At that time, I don’t remember having much pressures or expectations before and during… It was something I’ve randomly applied and got selected for. I didn’t know it was such a big show up until I went to install my work at the site, actually. However it was during that exhibition I realized that students at my age do not really apply to those things, I’m not really sure why.
Observing your artwork, may I point out things I see immediately? A lack of color! Why is this your preference?
Haejung: [Laughs] I’ve recently became acquaintances with color. I’ve always liked using color, but I took me a long time and countless number of ripped-up drawings to somewhat like the ones I make today. There was a certain aesthetic I look for, so its still an ongoing process. I only publish the ones I like but there are many that I don’t also.
Also, the subject in your art…who are they? Obviously they are all Asian…
Haejung: They are me [laughs]. My works are inspired by documenting thing in my life so it was natural for me to do self-portraits.
If photography is a source of inspiration, do you see yourself creating your own inspiration by becoming a more skilled photographer?
Haejung: I would say that photography is a source of inspiration in a sense that I like to make my drawings realistic. I always have to take photographs of the faces before I get to drawing. That way, I would capture all the freckles, directions of each strand of hair in the eyebrows, shadows behind the nose and lines within lips for me to draw. It’s all about details.
Living as a Korean transplant in a new country, could you specifically describe how discrimination has allowed you to grow as a person and how you applied it to your artwork?
Haejung: Living in a small town in a foreign country with little knowledge of english at the time, I experienced loads of racism and discrimination. I can’t say that hurtful comments from others hasn’t upset me from time to time but It did make me realize that I was not like everyone else and I learned to like that about myself. Along with focusing on myself as an individual, it eventually lead me to be interested in different people with their own individuality. I think people who embrace their own quirky weirdness is so interesting.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or anime?
Haejung: I’ve recently saw the movie “Stoker” directed by a Korean director Park Chan-Wook, and I really enjoyed it. That naturally lead me to watch “Old Boy“. I know I should have watched it long time ago, but when it first came out, I wasn’t quite old enough [laughs]. I loved the quirkiness and the rawness of the way the movie was created. It’s not easy to take such heavy and gruesome subject matter and turn it into a well put together cinematic experience.
Obviously there are restrictions and boundaries created by the curriculum of formal studies. But, what advice/crit from a teacher or mentor have you received on your work that really helped you develop?
Haejung: I am quite an introverted person, so I didn’t have any professors that knew me enough to give me words of advice. I don’t even think I exposed my drawings to the school was not until I was in third or fourth year in university.
When everything is said and done, will you venture to become a freelancer or find full time work? What do you think are the pros and cons of each career path?
Haejung: It would be anyone’s dream to live off of what they love doing. As of right now though, I am planning on getting a full time work in order to support and continue on with my art. I would like to obtain a job that keeps be hovered around the art scene.
Lastly, what advice can you offer up to other illustrators in your current position as an artist in life?
Haejung: I find that rejection is a huge power tool in an artist’s life. It really breaks you down, but then it also builds you up strong. Not everyone is going to like your work and that is perfectly fine. My philosophy in being an artist is that you should always make works that satisfy you, absolutely no one else. Passion will drive you, the rest will come naturally.
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