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Haejin Yoo - weaving intimate tapestries of personal emotions

Cologne | Germany

Haejin Yoo, a self-taught acrylic artist born in Seoul, South Korea, creates surrealistic expressionist art to evoke past and present emotions. Haejin's signature approach is to paint on raw canvas, symbolizing her belief that all things start from the ground. She hand-stretches each canvas before applying a series of techniques and complex colors. A hand-dyed red thread is sewn into the canvas to signify the represented moment. Haejin's artistic passion was discovered at a young age but was suppressed until her late twenties. She now lives in Cologne, Germany, with her husband and 20 months old little girl, where she exhibits her work across Europe, including winning the First Prize Abstract Award at FIRA International Art Fair Barcelona 2022 and exhibiting at The Other Art Fair London 2023.

How did your upbringing in Seoul, South Korea, influence your artistic journey and the themes you explore in your artwork?

My roots in Seoul, South Korea, despite only spanning the initial 11 years of my life, greatly influenced my journey as an artist. I've lived a life filled with constant geographical shifts, moving solo to Sydney, Australia, at such a young age, then living in London and eventually settling in Cologne, Germany, with my husband. The variety of experiences and cultures I've been exposed to certainly adds layers to my work.

My childhood in Korea, even though it was filled with its fair share of challenges and hardships, left an indelible mark on my soul and, consequently, on my art. While I won't deny the existence of my childhood trauma and my battle with cPTSD, I've learned to see it not as a life sentence but as a shaping force that has led me to constantly rise from the ashes, much like the proverbial phoenix. Life for me, especially during my early years in Australia, felt like a constant battle for survival. Every day brought with it a new fight, a fight against negative thoughts, a struggle to focus on the positive, or if not, then at least to remain in the present moment.

Art, for me, is a reflection of this life-long journey. In my work, I strive to intertwine beauty and sadness, each amplifying the other. I firmly believe that both exist symbiotically. My art is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, a symbol of continually resurfacing despite adversity. An excellent example of this is my painting "I Live in the Burning House," which beautifully embodies this narrative of rising amidst the flames of challenges.

Can you explain the significance behind your signature approach of painting on raw canvas and how it ties into your belief that all things start from the ground?

My signature style of painting on raw canvas symbolizes not only my artistic journey but also my personal history. It's a nod to my past, my experiences, my roots, and to the self-taught artist that I've become. Working with rough and unprimed linen reflects my own evolution, just like the canvas slowly transforms with every stroke of my brush.

The process of using acrylic paint and small brushes, though rigorous and demanding, is symbolic of my life's trajectory. It's a continuous process of refinement, where I change about three brushes per painting due to the abrasive nature of the raw linen. I aim to create artwork that has a well-blended and harmonious appearance, similar to the effect an oil painting might offer. It's a testament to my belief in the strength of perseverance and the beauty that can be born from struggle.

It's like a dance, really - the canvas and I. The raw linen, almost untameable, and myself locked in a passionate tango, trying to bring out the soft yet vibrant hues from the seemingly obstinate surface. This process mirrors my life's philosophy - we all start from the ground, raw and unrefined, but with patience and perseverance, we slowly evolve into something beautiful and profound.

What led you to discover your artistic passion at a young age, and how did it feel to have it suppressed until your late twenties? How has this journey shaped your artistic style and perspective?

From as early as I can recall, art held a magnetic allure for me. The dream of becoming an artist was sown into my heart as a second grader. However, as life unfurled its complexities, I found myself in a space where dreaming felt more like a luxury I couldn't afford. My primary aim morphed into securing a consistent income, a struggle that dominated my adolescence. To fulfill this, I chose a university degree that promised financial stability, and while it did deliver on that front, it left a gaping hole in my soul.

It wasn't until my late twenties that I found my way back to my original dream of becoming an artist. Being self-taught, it took me about seven years to hone my unique style, learning how to manipulate acrylic paint to express my inner thoughts and emotions. Starting late might be viewed as a setback by some, but for me, it resulted in a richer, introspective artistic approach. The late start guided me on a journey of self-discovery, and my art became a conduit for storytelling, each piece a snapshot of my personal experiences and perceptions.

How do you approach the process of hand-stretching each canvas before applying techniques and complex colors? What role does this process play in your artistic expression?

The process of hand-stretching each canvas is labor-intensive, particularly with larger pieces. It's like a prelude to the symphony of painting that follows, demanding meticulous effort and, sometimes, multiple attempts until the surface is taut enough. It takes roughly two hours to stretch a canvas manually, and it's a task I often share with my husband, especially when the canvas stretcher surpasses 100 cm.

This process is an integral part of my artistic expression. It mirrors the labor of love that goes into preparing a fertile ground before sowing seed. It's akin to the crucial groundwork needed for the eventual blossoming of beautiful flowers. From preparing the canvas to applying the intricate layers of paint, I believe every stage of the process contributes to the final outcome, and skipping any of them would feel incomplete. This grounding, laborious work shapes not only the canvas but also my relationship with the painting, fostering an intimate connection even before the first stroke of color graces the surface.

The use of hand-dyed red thread in your artwork is intriguing. Could you elaborate on the symbolism behind this element and how it represents the represented moment?

The red thread in my work serves as a symbolic signature, a metaphorical full stop at the end of a chapter of my life. Each painting is a narrative of my battles, struggles, and victories. Once I feel that a particular episode is complete, I sew in the red thread, a nod to the Eastern philosophy of the red thread of fate that connects and influences destinies. This act signifies closure, a resolution to that particular segment of my life's journey.

However, with my new series, "The Talisman", there's a shift in focus. For the first time in my artistic career, I'm not narrating my personal story. The series steps away from the introspective theme, and thus, the symbolic red thread doesn't find its place here. It's a testament to how art is ever-evolving, adapting to the shifting sands of our lives and experiences.

How has living in Cologne, Germany, influenced your artistic development and the way you connect with viewers across Europe?

Residing in Cologne, Germany, has had a profound influence on my artistic journey. It's as if the city's quiet isolation has funneled my focus entirely onto my art, with the universe gently nudging me towards creativity and introspection. This environment has been a catalyst in my artistic development, allowing me to delve deeper into my craft undisturbed by external noise.

As for connecting with my audience across Europe, it has been a humbling experience to find that art truly is a universal language. Despite the differing cultures and life experiences, people have connected with the emotions encapsulated in my paintings. It's heartening to see viewers relating to the feelings portrayed, validating the shared human experience. This interaction, while subtle, greatly influences my work, reminding me of the power art has in bridging gaps and resonating with people beyond borders.

Winning the First Prize Abstract Award at FIRA International Art Fair Barcelona 2022 must have been a significant achievement. Can you share your experience and the impact it had on your artistic career?

Winning the First Prize Abstract Award at FIRA International Art Fair Barcelona 2022 was indeed a pivotal moment for me. Prior to the event, I had been on a hiatus for about two years due to pregnancy and becoming a mother. Honestly, I was at a point where I felt like my artistic career was slipping away before it had even taken off. My art hadn't seen the light of day due to Covid, I lacked any form of artistic community, and self-doubt was slowly creeping in. I almost cancelled my participation in the show, which was delayed for a year due to Covid and which I had already missed once due to childbirth. I decided to give it one last shot, seeing it as my final attempt at an artistic career.

When the awards were being announced, the reality was quite comical. I was busy nursing my little girl at my booth, so it was my husband who broke the news that I had won an award. I hastily adjusted myself and dashed towards the podium. It's a memory that brings a smile to my face every time I recount it.

Winning the award was much more than a personal achievement; it turned the tide for my career. It created a ripple effect, attracting a crowd of visitors to my booth and fostering connections with fellow artists. Above all, it was a sign from the universe that I was on the right path, reaffirming that art was indeed my destiny. The overwhelmingly positive feedback I received post-show was incredible. It rekindled my confidence and passion, and to this day, I remember that event as the one that kept my dream alive.

Exhibiting at The Other Art Fair London 2023 is a remarkable opportunity. What do you hope to achieve through this exhibition, and how do you believe it will contribute to your artistic journey?

The Other Art Fair London 2023 was indeed a significant milestone for me. It was an exhilarating experience that went beyond merely exhibiting my work. I made meaningful connections with fellow artists, made my first profit, and had the opportunity to interact directly with art lovers and collectors. The immediate, tangible feedback I received from visitors was a source of tremendous encouragement and inspiration. It was such an adrenaline rush that I barely found myself sitting down during the four-day event.

The fair fulfilled my aspirations on multiple fronts – it fostered a sense of community, provided invaluable feedback, resulted in tangible sales, and, above all, fueled my confidence to continue on my artistic journey. With my acceptance to The Other Art Fair LA in September 2023, I'm looking forward to extending these connections, broadening my network, and immersing myself once again in the rewarding experience that such events offer. Every exhibition is a stepping stone, a new chapter in my evolving narrative as an artist.

How does being a self-taught artist shape your approach to acrylic art, and what advantages or challenges does it present compared to traditional art education?

Being a self-taught artist has both shaped and nuanced my approach to acrylic art in a distinctive way. One advantage is the sense of originality that seeps into my work. I've developed my own techniques, shaped by trial and error rather than classroom instruction. This gives me a sense of artistic freedom and fosters a unique style, something that has often been noted in terms of my compositions.

However, this path also brings challenges. The most glaring one is the pace of my work. As I've never formally learned painting techniques, I often find myself using methods that may not be the most efficient. It's like navigating through uncharted territory without a compass, which can sometimes slow me down. Yet, it's also this very aspect that adds an element of exploration and discovery to my artistic process. Each stroke is a step forward on a path I carve myself, infusing my work with an authenticity that is uniquely mine.

Your art serves as a personal journal exploring complex emotions. Could you delve into how your personal experiences and emotions influence the creation of each piece, and how you hope viewers will connect with and interpret these emotions in your work?

My art is an intimate tapestry of my emotions woven through each stroke and color. Each piece delves into emotions and experiences that I believe are universal. Whether it's grappling with familial relationships, navigating the roller coaster of pregnancy and birth, struggling with substances, or enduring slumps, I pour my soul into the canvas as a way to process and understand these emotions.

What's truly humbling and gratifying is when viewers connect with my work. I've received feedback from many who find a piece of themselves in different paintings. It's as if the canvas becomes a mirror reflecting their own stories and emotions. While the experiences that birth these emotions might vary, the emotions themselves often share a common thread. I hope that viewers find comfort, a sense of solidarity, and perhaps a gentle reminder that they are not alone in their journey. Moreover, through my art, I want to convey that despite the tumultuous nature of emotions, we have the strength to overcome and thrive, even if just for a moment.


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