An artist interview with Oh So Young; Creativity and the beginning

Do you consider yourself “creative?” How do you express that creativity?

I think that creativity means making something. We are constantly creating things in everyday life such when we cook, put on clothes, or make-up. Everyone has preferences relating to all these aspects of our daily life. And we consider how our clothes look; are they special or pretty? There is creativity in this process, but artists create more intensively.


Mural created during live painting in Coex Mall.



Live painting in Berlin.

How did you become a muralist? Where do find ideas for your murals?

Six years ago, I showed my work in COEX Mall in Seoul. It was my first exhibit of my artwork ever. That meant I didn’t have any idea about the best way to show my work. I just hung my artwork on the wall and I sat in front of it. I felt like I was a clerk in a store. It was boring and awkward. So I decided to take my artwork down and, instead, I started painting on the huge wall. I know, it sounds so strange. But suddenly, many people, including curators, took photos of me working and people began to buy my artwork.


After that day, one of the officers of the Choong Mu Art Center got in touch to inquire about my live painting. And he asked me if I could do a wall painting. So, how did I answer? Yes, of course!!! But frankly speaking, I had never painted a mural in my life before that day. 😉


Even after that first uncomfortable show, I’ve continued painting murals. My murals are in South Korea, Italy, Bangladesh, Germany, and Indonesia, among other countries.


Sailing with hanging moon

Ideas for my murals? Actually I never draw a rough sketch for any of my murals, I just go to the wall. I feel the atmosphere of the place and read poems. Then, I choose some poems which are related to the history of the place, or by my favorite Korean poet, Choi Seung Ja. I consider it a ceremony of sorts. Taking advantage of my subconscious feelings about the place, I paint the wall.


Are you inspired by the work of other street artists or muralists?

Yes. But I am also inspired by poetry, science, and nature.


You live on Jeju Island in South Korea. When I lived there, I was impressed by the natural beauty of the beaches and terrain on the island. I felt like that conflicted with the very gray architecture of public buildings and apartment complexes and the predominantly white, black and gray cars. Your work is so colorful. What informs it? And how does your audience react to it? (So Young answers indirectly with the story below:)


Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. My car was so colorful, with an array of colors. It was so extreme. 🙂 But my goal was to make people who saw my car smile. I hoped people would feel refreshed when they saw it.

One day, I was standing by my car, waiting for a friend.

Some kids that seemed to be around 8 or 9-years-old looked at my car as they passed by.

“What kind of car is this? Is it ruined? Who is the owner of this crazy car?”

They discussed the car with much curiosity.

“Me,” I said.

I raised my hands like a ghost and made scary eyes.

“Hhhhhhhhhhhh, I am. I am the owner of this car~~~~~~ hhhhhhhhhhhh.”

They were shocked and ran away crying. Hahahahahaha.


Logistics, Permission and Financial Concerns

Do you always get permission to create your pieces on buildings?

Yes, I get permission before I paint.


How do you decide if an idea is viable? Do you act on all your creative ideas?

Sometimes ideas are just ideas, as Mark Twain says. 🙂 But if, over the course of time, I do decide an idea is viable, the idea will become well-aged like the soybean paste we use for cooking.


Performing in Germany

You’ve spent some time creating art overseas. Was that useful for your practice?

I have spent time in other countries through artist residency programs. It has been really useful. My major was not art, it was in English literature and bio science. That means that I am constantly learning more about the materials I use. The artist residencies have helped with that. And I gain inspiration from them in other ways, too.


How have you made it financially possible to focus on your artwork?

I just try to survive one day at a time. One time I was so hungry. I didn’t have anything to eat. I only drank water for 3 days. So I drew a bird on the cloth and filled it with cotton wool. But I couldn’t eat the bird. Because it was too cute to eat.


What are you creating currently?

I did live painting while actors acted on a stage for 20 days in Seoul, Korea. I painted different pictures for every performance. Now, I’m preparing for a one-man play for a summer festival in Seoul.


Ah, and I am going to Bali for an artist residency program from May through June. In Bali, I plan to have a doll play or yoga performance if possible. I am also writing a book (with illustrations) about ‘Om Swastiastu,’ the Hindu phrase that we should use whenever we go into a place in Bali. It’s meaning is like a wish for happiness and peace for that place. I’ll be writing, drawing, and exploring in Ubud, Bali.


A whale



How do you keep a balance between paid work and personal work?

I spend more time on personal work than paid work. But if someone commissions a mural, I adjust my schedule accordingly. Normally, almost everyday I paint, make or write something for my personal work.


Art and Activism

Can you speak a little about art as activism? Do you think artists have power to change the world through art?

First of all, I should mention, the Sewol Ferry tragedy happened in South Korea on April 16 2014. Lots of young people, even a 7-year-old-girl, died in the Sewol Ferry which sunk while on its way to Jeju Island.

Some students on the ferry were heading to Jeju Island on a school trip. Some ferry-goers planned to take a tour and others were on the boat because they planned to start a new life on Jeju. Over 400 people were on the ferry and most of the people were killed at sea when the ferry sank. When the news first hit, the media reported there were no injuries. But that turned out to be false. Nobody was rescued. Only the ship captain escaped.

Where were the marine police? Where was our president Park? Why didn’t anyone take responsibility to rescue the people who drowned? Still the truth has not been disclosed. The Korean government has concealed the truth.

Many people in South Korea mourned alongside the families who lost loved ones in the April 16th ferry disaster. It was a national tragedy. I felt like I couldn’t do anything to help. At that time I had been working on an art project on Jeju for a month. After the disaster took place, I couldn’t focus on my project. While I was walking on the street one day, I suddenly started crying. I was traumatized….

More than a month later, I began performing on the street about the Sewol Tragedy. Lots of artists have performed together to let people in the world know the truth behind what happened. Before this, I was an inward-looking, secretive artist. But I’ve changed a bit after the Sewol Ferry tragedy.

Collaborative-body-paint-art Performance-feathers-artist interview

Can artists change the world?

I hope so. I hope art can help let people know the truth.


Tell us something we don’t know about you yet:

I think an artists’ role is to tell people that all humans share the earth. I try to observe, listen and watch what’s happening in the world and help people understand what I see through art.



Photo Copyright Ran Young Lee, 2016

Oh So Young (b. Jeju, South Korea, 1979) is based on Jeju Island, South Korea. She studied bio science and English literature in college, and especially her love of science has informed her art practice. Soyoung performs, paints and acts. She has been selected for competitive artist residencies in Gasiri, Jeju, Gyung gi, and Seoul, Korea, as well international residencies in Bangladesh, Italy and Indonesia. Her murals can be seen in Seoul, Incheon, Jeju, and Gumi, among other towns in Korea. See more of So Young’s creative work on her website or on Facebook.


Want to recommend we speak with a creative person you know? Get in touch.

Past installments of our monthly interview with a creative person:

Conjuring Creativity with intermedia artist Cherie Buck-Hutchison

Interview: Andy Faulk makes some damn dreamy portraits

Coaxing and Coaching Creativity with Quinn McDonald

Creativity is innate but must be nurtured, interview with Lisa Baughn

Contact WPP to schedule a documentary photo session

Willow Paule Photography on Facebook

Willow Paule on Twitter

Source: New Stuff