Subtle undulations pull the viewer into the work of Cheonae Kim. Originally from Korea and now based in the United States, Kim has led an adventurous life. Traveling has been an inspiration and important part of Kim’s work and has led to residencies in Spain, Germany, and around the United States, as well as her numerous shows. Kim is a seeker of the sublime. In her hands, the tradition of portraiture is re-imagined; each one of her subjects is translated into delicate, arching waves of color.
Cheonae’s interest in the arts began during her early travels throughout Europe. During this time, she was in the process of earning her bachelors degree in food and nutrition at Ewha Women’s University in Seoul, Korea. She received a scholarship to study abroad in Germany and took the opportunity to explore. As the waits between destinations were long, Kim took up drawing to better pass the time. The inclination stuck with her. Kim eventually moved to the United States and attended Southern Illinois University, where she earned her Bachelors of Arts in Drawing and a Masters of Fine Art in Drawing and Printmaking, graduating in 1986. Kim stayed at Southern Illinois as a part-time teacher in painting, drawing, and printmaking. Currently, she works full time in her studio in New York city.
The Black and White Series is Cheonae Kim’s previous series, which was a ten year project. This series explores compositions of black rectangles set against a white background. Seemingly simple, a closer look reveals a complicated relationship between each rectangle and the space around them. The singular colors and repeating shapes across the compositions make each difference feel startlingly significant. The black and white contrasts starkly against each other, edges carefully drawn or painted along strict guidelines. The rectangles shift between vertical and horizontal. These elements are reminiscent of opposing forces: life and death, growth and stagnation. The shapes are rhythmic, rolling over each other in endless movements. This series is mostly small in size, five inches or less, creating a sense on intimacy and personal relevance.
Eventually, Kim’s interest began to shift. A growing interest in color led Kim to start creating ‘color dictionaries’, which are her personal record of words she associates with certain colors and explorations with the relationships between colors. The color dictionaries brought Kim to a new understanding of color and its emotional and physical connections. Kim began collecting words from people and associating colors with that word. To her, it revealed truths and palettes of color that related to the teller.
Expanding from these dictionaries, Kim began to combine her color research with organic, fluid forms. The result sparked a new series of portraits, of which, Kim has completed more then sixty. The works reference the color dictionaries, but are more open to personal interpretation. Kim’s process begins with a photograph of her subject. She works only with the face; background and any other context is ignored. The paintings are an abstraction that draws out the many levels of beauty in her subjects. Kim find beauty in facial expressions or in the composition of the model’s features. She looks for the beauty within and then projects an internal landscape on to her paper. The result is a memoir without words. The work is inspired by the fact that people can’t really know who they are; there is always something dormant inside that can surprise. Each painting is set on a black background; black is a sensual color, it is deep and full of possibilities. The oval shape is a tribute to traditional portraits; allowing the viewer a clue to its subject. In the future, Cheonae Kim plans to keep experimenting with her portrait series and see what possibilities await in working with a live model. viewer a clue to its subject. In the future, Cheonae Kim plans to keep experimenting with her portrait series and see what possibilities await in working with a live model.