AHL Foundation: Can you briefly describe your artworks?
Choong Sup Lim: My works are about subjectivity, not objectivity. This is important. My works are ‘subjectivity.’
AHL Foundation: I see Korean sentiment in your works.
Choong Sup Lim: I ate about 40,000 hamburgers since I came to the United States, but you can smell Korean doenjang (Korean soybean paste) in me. Even though I don’t consciously search for something Korean, or true me, and if I try to find something Korean, that will be symbolism and mannerism, so it cannot be truly mine.
AHL Foundation: Where do you get your materials like thread?
Choong Sup Lim: These threads are made by old Korean ladies in Wando, Gyeongsangnam-do Province in Korea. They sell this small skein. I have it right there.
Young students tell me, “why don’t you make them colorful and use them in your work,” but these are very colorful. The color of the skein represents Korean’s skin color. The common people draw their deep agony in this skein.
AHL Foundation: Humor is an inevitable part of your works.
Choong Sup Lim: The world is keenly divided into two these days. I am standing in between nature and civilization, and I am doing what they call Hae-Hak (Humor and satire) in literature, sense of humor. So, I am visualizing the humor. It is a kind of realization. In my 2-dimensional works, you can read the word “jool-im” a lot, and in English, it can be monochromatic and minimalism. I think all the works are jool-im. People say that Leonardo Da Vinci painted everything in his Last Supper, but I think that painting too is jool-im work. I like the Korean word jool-im than any other English word like monochromatic or minimalism, or Chinese word “Dan-saek hwa.”
AHL Foundation: The word “jool-im” is very interesting.
Choong Sup Lim: My canvas works are all jool-im works, and I try not to draw the nature realistically but to naturally untie my longing for nature. Most of the Asian paintings have a giant waterfall and a noble scholar sitting in the painting. Usually, the noble scholar in the painting symbolizes the artist of the painting. The artist is meditating and owning the nature. The reason I jool-im (minimize) is to have and to own the traditional Korean painters’ spirit.
AHL Foundation: So, in a sense, you are meditating rather than making?
Choong Sup Lim: Yes, it is rather a meditation than art. This is called the ‘Talkative Tree,’ trees in the urban city, all these one hundred and two hundred aged trees have a sense of humor in them. So, I wanted to visualize each tree’s sense of humor. I showed them in the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea.
AHL Foundation: I will take photos of these works.
Choong Sup Lim: Shadows, take it from the side. You should include the shadow. From top to bottom. Take the photo as it is the artwork. When I went to Tibet, I heard them chanting. I asked what their chanting was, and it is ‘Ah Ooh Eum’ in Korean. They are singing life. ‘Ah’ is when a baby screams when his born, ‘Ooh’ is our agony and meditation in life, and ‘Eum’ is death. This work shows ‘Ah’ of a baby at birth, running horizontally during life, and the death. This is also a jool-im work and in English, it is a monochromatic activity.
AHL Foundation: Then, is the concept of ‘jool-im’ the most important factor in your works?
Choong Sup Lim: It is a little abstract, but the umbrella concept is ‘나파내기 (Napanegie: Digging myself)’ in Korean, and I try to dig myself diligently. I try not to think that I should do ‘Korean style work.’ In short, I have the subjectivity. Diligently.
AHL Foundation: Can you tell me about the making process?
Choong Sup Lim: I can’t tell all of it in words, but I try to start with an event that may be important and try to spread outward. If I have a subject of interest, I just keep that in mind without doing any visual action, but I soon find myself visualizing it with some motive. I don’t make by looking at a model, but I make the model, then I paint it. That is part of my making process.
AHL Foundation: I read that you also taught at schools?
Choong Sup Lim: About 10 years ago, I taught graduate students at Seoul National University, where I graduated. However, the teaching methods were still very teacher-centered. Students’ drawings were almost identical to each other, and they seemed to have no identity. So, I tried to teach the way how I was taught in New York. I told my students to make artworks as how they were used, but to bring an object that served as a catalyst for their processes. Then, I asked them to perform in between their canvases and the objects. Students’ works changed drastically from then on, and works were very interesting.
AHL Foundation: AHL Foundation: I also heard that your New York life was very challenging in the beginning.
Choong Sup Lim: Yes, I literally did everything. To say it lightly, I cleaned dishes and toilets, and I even did a manual labor and was kicked out. I rented a small room under the train in Brooklyn, and it was 50 dollars a month. You can’t find anything that is as cheap now, it’s between $2000 and $3000. But, the ceiling sounded like it would collapse every 5 minutes. The D train that goes to Coney Island. I lived there for a year or two. Even if I worked in factories in the day, I kept on drawing at night. I didn’t throw them away. After several years, on a snowy day, I went to OK Harris gallery, and I was wearing my sneakers. I couldn’t go into the fancy gallery, which showed major artists’ works. But, when I went inside the gallery, an American came to me and asked what I was holding. When I told him that they were my drawings, he asked me if he could see them. He said my works were amazing and told me to come inside Ivan Karp’s room. Then, he told me that he liked my works and wanted to give me the spot for my solo show in the coming May, and asked me to sign the contract. So, I did and had the solo exhibition in May.
AHL Foundation: What motivated you to continue the work?
Choong Sup Lim: Practicing art is so noble. The path that I can go right and makes me happy is this path.
AHL Foundation: Did you get more opportunities after the OK Harris show?
Choong Sup Lim: I applied for the Queens Museum’s annual call for exhibitions for emerging artists before OK Harris. I was one of the thirteen candidates among the 800 applicants. So, as one of the finalists, the juries told me that they’d visit my studio. My studio was very small at the time, and I had a lot of drawings on Hanji (Korean paper). The juries included a professor from the Queens College and a curator from the Queens Museum. They gave me ‘yes’ after looking at my drawings and included me to the 8 final artists for the group show.
AHL Foundation: Would you say that those times were the most challenging time in your career?
Choong Sup Lim: Yes, but it is the same now. I have good dreams and nightmares. Most of them are nightmares, but I try to change them into good dreams through my art practice. I think that is what art is. It is to beautify, and that is happiness. There are too many art schools and too many artists. People just forget about their own merits. If you make art, there should be some people who dance with you, but there are too many artists. So, you should cherish yourself and should be happy with what you are doing. Then, you should decide to go to the art market. You should love your art, respect yourself, make something that you love, and should be confident with own art. Also, I think an artist should have the confidence. It is ironic to fight the solitude, but an artist should be confident, love himself, and should not be too obsessed with selling his artworks.
AHL Foundation: What are you currently working on?
Choong Sup Lim: I am going back to 2-dimensional works. But, it is different from the past works, I have lots to do, and I am happy. This canvas work is one of the recent works. I went to many art museums, but I never saw a canvas that is oval shaped. I stretched it myself, and it felt like as if I was released from a prison of rectangular shaped canvases. I also made the easel with the wheels. This is another work. So, my recent change of thought is from object installation to flat canvas work. My agonies, and my concerns regarding my artworks.
AHL Foundation: So, that is also one of your jool-im works?
Choong Sup Lim: Canvas works, shaped-canvas, moving away from the rectangular-shaped canvas, and I am happy to go back to my canvas works and I feel the depths.
AHL Foundation: I can see evidence of your hard work and exploration everywhere in your studio?
Choong Sup Lim: To love myself, I have to constantly examine myself and critique myself. I should constantly make art, reflect, and educate myself whether I know what it will become or not. Too bad I went to Seoul Arts high school and Seoul National University, where I gained un-necessities.
AHL Foundation: Any final words?
Choong Sup Lim: I am not a perfect artist, but I am an artist that endures agony. Gradual elimination, the fact that I can eliminate is the spirit of Asian painters’, and I think that spirit supports my artworks too. Also, Choong Sup Lim’s monochromatic works are not confined in prison, but they are freed from the prison of rectangular canvases. I am now moving onto the shaped canvas format, that is the point I want to make to you.
Interviewed and transcribed by Joo Young Yoo, 2016-2017 AHL Foundation Research Fellow