Mie Yim was born in South Korea in 1963. She grew up in Hawaii, earned a B.F.A. from the Philadelphia College of Art, and spent a year at the Tyler School of Art’s program in Rome. She is the recipient of both the Pollock Krasner Foundation Grant (2020) and The Lillian Orlowsky and William Freed Grant (2018). Her work has been displayed in numerous international exhibitions, including solo shows at Lehmann Maupin Gallery and Michael Steinberg Fine Arts in New York as well as the Galleria in Arco in Turin, Italy. She was included in “Selections” at the Drawing Center, and her work has been shown in group exhibitions at the ATM Gallery, Feature, Inc. and the Ise Cultural Foundation in New York, as well as Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas and The Weatherspoon Art Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina. She has been selected for the AIM program at The Bronx Museum of the Arts and the Jurors Award at N.Y.U. Gallery. Her work has been collected at such places as the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City and the Chambers Hotel in New York City and published on the back cover of a textbook called “Social Text” by Duke University. Her writing has been included in “THIS,” a Collection of artists’ writings edited by Susan Jennings. She is the author of a book called “A.B.C. of S.E.X.” and a recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts Painting Fellowship. She lives and works in New York City.
When making work, I start from an emotional space of the past, my childhood years. Abrupt migration from Korea to Hawaii when I was a young girl left an indelible impression of disconnectedness and longing. Making art is a way to reconstruct some kind of meaning and purpose of fragmented identity.
I began by making narrative paintings of memory and fantasy. Theatrical scenes of plush, anthropomorphic creatures in sugary colors referring to my cultural heritage. Eventually these characters started to fall apart, come undone. I’m interested in articulating a more complex visual language, sublimating story and bring form and the presence of paint to the forefront. I want to get at the sour as well as the sweet. I visualize the cute, naughty creatures with their guts turned inside out. I transmute many pictorial moments of pretty shapes into the unknown and dark. Buried beneath the luscious colors and sexy shapes lie maudlin spirits and brooding angry prepubescents ready to do battLe. They have transpired into a strange blend of organic/biomorphic machine-like beings.
Thinking about all my loves and influences in the Western world, canonical painters like Phillip Guston and Joan Mitchell, I embrace putting paint down intuitively. Each painting goes through many phases and layers of horizontal and vertical lines like scaffoldings or skeletons, that are derived from anthropomorphic parts. They could conjure bunny ears, doe eyes. I apply paint rather dry, like texture of pastel to get an effect of soft edges, matte surface and cotton balls. The hope is to construct a form that gels into kind of metaphysical portraits of pathos, unease and pugnacious hilarity. The process of painting is never linear and logical. In order to unsee the images, I turn the canvas around constantly. I’m interested in making forms that falls apart when one is close to the image, solidifies when one steps back. Painting this way is like falling backward without a net. After being overwhelmed by the perpetual uncertainty of my adolescence, I have come to be at ease with uncertainty in the studio practice.
I realize I no longer need an overt imagery to provoke a response. My existential anxiety is embedded deeply in the paintings. Thee boundary between figuration and abstraction has dissolved for me. It’s time to evolve from personal to universal, beyond cultural references and definitions into the primordial human expression.
- Mie Yim