INTERVIEW WITH TAE WON AHN


The Unreal World: Korean Artist talks about the wonders and fantasies of whats not here. 



A00

Where did you grow up?

T.W.A

I was born and raised in Seoul, Korea



A00

What was childhood like?


T.W.A

I liked to read mangas and watch animations, so I spent a lot of time drawing the characters in them. Also, I raised many different types of pets, and I remember finding playing with animals and insects more enjoyable than hanging out with friends sometimes.



A00
Any anime suggestions?


T.W.A

I would like to recommend 'Berserk' from Kentaro Miura, who passed away recently. Or Digimon Adventure.



A00

Did you start art at a young age?


T.W.A

Yes, one of the things I remember vividly from my childhood (before I was about four or five years old) is memories of paintings. After enrolling in school, I remember spending a lot of time just doodling textbooks. Teachers used to scold me, and I remember feeling ashamed when I had to turn in my textbooks...



A00

What inspired you to practice art?


T.W.A

It was heavily influenced by animations, the universe depicted in them, and lots and lots of imageries. I was interested in the fantastic elements of the unreal world. It can feel very static and visually dull coming back to reality after being immersed in animation for a long time.



A00
If you're building your own anime fantasy world. What would it be like?


T.W.A

I was really into Tim Burton's work when I was younger, and I would say that I'm still very much influenced by him. Perhaps, like him, I would create a sad but beautiful world by illuminating the lives of imperfect beings.



A00

What's the protagonist like?


T.W.A

Perhaps the protagonist of the world I created lives a quiet, and lonely life with a unique appearance. Then, accidentally, he would get a chance to change his life drastically through some sort of special ability coming from his appearance.



A00

The unreal world that allows the expression of all imaginations. Why is this element so important in your work?


T.W.A

The reason I liked cartoons as a kid is probably because I found the cartoon world so much more interesting than the real world. I was more comfortable being with cartoon characters than people in reality. If an unrealistic being suddenly appears in front of me out of nowhere and asks me to go to a new world, I would hesitate for maybe about five seconds and go for it. Naturally, my work mirrors this mentality I guess. The unreal was so much more visually pleasing for me.





A00

You mentioned that it feels static and dull coming back to reality after binging on anime. Do you ever feel that the reality we live in is just not enough?


T.W.A

I don't know if it's because I'm slow with emotions, but I don't really feel anger and I don't feel much happiness. I find it a bit awkward to face my own emotions. It's definitely something to work on...find genuine joy in real life other than being immersed in paintings and cartoons.



A00

Would you say that the unreal, the fantasy, is only so fascinating and romanticized because it's untouchable in the real world?


T.W.A

I guess you're right. When my favorite animations or cartoons are ended, I'm always left with a bitter feeling. It's a shame that I won't be able to see the story of the characters in the world. That's why I think I create it myself. I hope the fantasy will continue from the inside.



A00

There's a lot of cat imageries in your recent works. Why cats? What's the story?


T.W.A

Since I have been creating surreal imageries, I wanted to try using real images as materials. Like real-world stuff. I looked through countless memes and images playing on the concept o humor. The internet is packed with this sort of stuff, and I found this cat meme saved on my phone. So there it is...where all started.



A00

Are there any artists that influenced you or your work?


T.W.A

Austin Lee, Julius Hofmann, Trey Abdella



A00

What sort of cultural phenomenon sparks your interest nowadays?


T.W.A

Recently, I like taking memes off the Internet, and other linguistic humor codes, to convert them into art. My older paintings focus on the surreal fantasies of the unreal world, but those memes are somewhat more of a caption of the ongoing reality.



A00

Memes are a very unique and modern way of visual communication. The boundary between humor and art can be a very fine line. What do you think?


T.W.A

I don't want my work to be in any way complex in terms of meanings. I honestly think I'm a relatively shallow person. Not in a negative way. But more in a pure way.

Memes are indeed a modern form of visual communication. But my work was not done strategically, I just thought it would be fun.




A00

Being an artist in South Korea. What is that like? Do you feel any limitations? or Advantages?


T.W.A

The art market is small here. The culture of collecting artworks is still something uncommon. But Korea is a relatively fashion-conscious country. So the consumption of art is often related to the consumption of branded goods. When a style becomes famous, or popular in the main stean market, people start to copy the work and the consumption wave starts.



A00

If you were to relocate yourself to a foreign country, where would that be?


T.W.A

I want to go to Austria. I've been on a trip to Austria, where I saw murals. It was such a unique experience.



A00

Do you have any daily rituals or routines you do before work?


T.W.A

Not much. Just preparing the materials. I mainly use airbrushes and if they aren't cleaned regularly and properly, it's hard to get the desired effect.



A00

What's your studio like?


T.W.A

I recently moved studio. The original studio was narrow, and there really wasn't enough space for three people. Especially the bathroom. Worst ever. The toilet didn't really exist and there was just a hole. The poop truck had to come regularly.

I've used to share the studio with artists working in 2D but now I share the studio with 3D artists and I'm naturally getting influenced by them. That's the best part. I think I'm starting to think in a more three-dimensional spectrum in terms of making art.



A00

We definitely see you shifting beyond the flat 2D recently. We saw you making pots and larger installation pieces. What was that experience like?


T.W.A

I've been thinking of getting out of the square canvas for a long time but I couldn't figure out the right way to do that. But then I got to share the studio with Lee Hyun-Woo and Yoo Ji-O, and thanks to them I broke the boundaries I was restricted to. After leaving the square canvas, I was able to express imageries in a whole different way. Things became so much more fluent and effective. The canvas was certainly restricting me to some extent.



A00

Do you think you will continue experimenting with 3D works?


T.W.A

Of course. Definitely.



A00

Do you listen to music while you work?

T.W.A

That's right. I usually listen to one song over and over, on repeat, but change the song on a daily basis.



A00

Good to know you found what's right for you. Here's a random question. What sort of music do you listen to?


T.W.A

It's different every time. I don't really have a preference in terms of genre. These days, I listen to Big Shaq, 'Mans Not Hot' and Ghibli music lines.



A00

You’re one of the many artists living through the Covid pandemic. Would you say that many have changed? For the better or worse?


T.W.A

I've been asked this question a lot, but my life hasn't changed much since the covid pandemic. I'm the type who stays in the studio most of the time anyway. So even though outdoor life is restricted, I don't really feel much uncomfortable. Also, there seem to be no inconveniences living as an artist in the art world...Ironically, more people finding my work nowadays.



A00

What's your view on online exhibitions?


T.W.A

Since social media is well-established these days, it would be nice to have a unique platform for creative competitiveness and online exhibitions. But wouldn't it be best to see the work face to face?



A00

If you could travel back in time, what era would you visit?


T.W.A

I wanna go back to being a teenager and punch a guy who used to bully me. I was so scared at the time that I couldn't do anything about it, but if I were to go back now, I'd do something about it and come back with no regrets.



A00
Tell us a secret!


T.W.A

I accidentally pooped on my pants once.

 
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