Working at Bow Arts and understanding the art of Hun Kyu Kim

In May 2019 I first made my way through those big grey gates off Bow Road and  entered the doors of Bow Arts Trust, unaware at the time that this would be an experience that would shape a part of me.

The importance of team work and job satisfaction became very apparent while I worked in this multi-dimensional art organisation. Having spent a lot of time in the Nunnery Gallery, I got to see many amazing artworks, absorbing the many themes and emotions which they encompassed. What has been even more amazing, was to be able to meet and speak with the artists behind such wonderful creations.

One such artist is Hun Kyu Kim, who I came across while exploring over 100 artist studios during Bow Road Open Studios 2019. I was mesmerised by the detail and the intricacy of the paintings created by the London-based Korean artist, who studied Oriental painting and double majored in Aesthetics at Seoul National University of South Korea, after which he completed an MA at Royal College of Art, London. I wanted to learn more about the artistic mind behind “Soon, life will become more interesting”, currently exhibited as part of the 2019 Bow Open Show in the Nunnery Gallery. Hun Kyu was kind enough to answer a few of my questions:

Hun Kyu Kim, Soon life will become more interesting, traditional oriental pigment on silk, 95 X 95 cm, 2017.

1. What themes do you pursue and why?

I’ve been making a few stories regarding a few contemporary political issues. As Parker J Palmer, an American Journalist said, contemporary people are prone to avoid sharing political ideas due to its uncomfortable tension. However, he emphasises that contemporary people should never be afraid of sharing each other’s political standpoint because it is a kind of practice to understand one another, which can make political change. I personally believe that a gallery is a kind of public space where people can meet each other, talk and think about our world, figuring out how to live together harmoniously. Therefore, I am doing my best to offer diverse contemporary issues through my imaginative world.

2. Has a real-life situation or experience ever inspired you?

I used to work as a prison guard, due to my military service, which inspires me a lot in both good and bad ways. I witnessed unfairness and irrational situations there, so I started to trace the Korean history that led to what I witnessed. The experience was a little bit harsh but it made me sensitive to the outer world, which definitely nurtures me as an artist.

3. What has been the most memorable response to your work?

Every time I do an exhibition, I find out that very few people know of impending political issues that have a huge impact on our daily life. However, many people are willing to enjoy my works and then start to feel a concern about our society, which is a great pleasure for me.

4. Your art hints at activism. What type(s) of activism or social cause do you relate to the most?

As you might know, there are so many types of activism and they are as complicated as our society. In my case, I am doing my best to establish an artistic and intellectual infrastructure that I hope will be able to make some changes in our society someday. My work may not be able to have a huge impact on our society right now, but there are many themes and stories in my paintings and I believe that these will be looked at and worth their study in the years to come.

5. What motivates you to keep creating art?

Without infinite love for human beings, my art would never exist. I spend 10 hours a day in my studio, sitting on the floor and drawing paintings because I believe that we, human beings, can be changed in a positive way and I strongly believe it with my infinite love toward them.

It is fascinating to know what goes through an artist’s mind and how they are able to create these magical pieces of work. It makes me wonder about the amount of time an artist may spend on their craft, which is why I also asked Hun Kyu whether he has a dedicated amount of time for his art each week/month or if it’s spontaneous. He replied

I spend on average 10 hours every single day without holiday or vacation. I know I am breaking a labour law but still, I really enjoy it and feel so happy about it. I do want to say thank you to my wife who puts up with my long hours. While I am writing this, she is kindly waiting for me at home.

When asked if he had any advice for artists who are struggling to find time for their practise, he humbly responded:

I am not sure that I am the right person to advise other artists. I am still learning from my life and there are still endless things that I don’t know. Thus, I don’t dare to say anything to them.

Hun Kyu’s art really speaks to me, perhaps because I am an activist and can clearly see the social and political issues carefully intertwined in his pieces. This is why I was keen to know whether it was his experiences through life that brought him to art, or whether he was an artist before he even understood society and politics.

I’ve been in love with art since I was in nursery. I don’t know why…” is the beautiful answer I received. I am glad that we have artists such as Hun Kyu among us, who are conscious, compassionate and concerned, as I feel it is partly through them that social changes and improvements will be possible.

By Fizza Murtaza

Fizza was our Nunnery Gallery Assistant from May – October 2019, as part of the Shared Training and Employment Programme (STEP), run by Create Jobs. Create Jobs aims to support and develop young people who are underrepresented in the creative and digital industries by providing training programmes, brokering job opportunities and developing networks.

You can see Hun Kyu Kim’s painting in the 2019 Bow Open Show until Sunday 15 December 2019. We have an exciting events programme running alongside the exhibition which continues to respond to ‘our current political moment’, exploring the idea of ‘art as protest’, and looking at the wider role that artists play within our society. 

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