We first came across J Seo’s work at her BA Fine Art Graduate show at Goldsmiths. Her series of lake paintings stood out from the crowd and drew us back time and time again to revel in their beauty. We are so pleased that she has joined the Collective for the Sea-Fever auction by entering Lot 12 and Lot 30.
J Seo, firstly a huge congratulations on graduating from Goldsmiths. Thousands of people apply to the prestigious school every year but what was it that drew you to the Art College?
I found the name in Don Thompson’s book, The $12 Million Stuffed Shark. There were lots of stories of the Young British Artists (YBAs) and Goldsmiths was repeatedly mentioned. I just felt that I could live as an artist through the School. I was always an art lover, but I never imagined that I could be an artist because I felt that is too great to be. Nevertheless, when I read about Goldsmiths, I decided to go there. It was the only path I knew to the international art world.
The College boasts a long-list of art world alumni, from Lucian Freud and John Craxton to Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas. In fact, since 1990, former Goldsmiths' students have been nominated for the Turner Prize more than 30 times. What were your fellow students like and who did you most admire from the course?
My fellow students, they all had very strong characters and the diversity created such a dynamic energy. It is because the environment requires self-confidence and self-esteem as an artist to keep going. There is an element of survival in the group too, even though there is no competition.
The person I most admire at Goldsmiths is Phillip Lai. He was my Second Year tutor. He is very insightful and conversations with him are always satisfying.
What was the most treasured or valued part of attending the college?
The environment that the college provides, which the students then develop, is so precious. Being with various strong characters from all over the world was intense, interesting and at times stressful. However, as each tutor recognised each student as an individual artist there was no specific task or subject to follow. There was only the studio, where we had the freedom and opportunity to engage in conversations with many others.
Rather than something being taught directly, an environment is created to guide us, challenge us, make us study more, work harder and try new things - students pursue and struggle with their own works. As a result, there are numerous stories, materials, and ways to work. This was great as we could watch and learn a variety of processes from our fellow students.
The course was not easy at all, but it was really worth it.
It sounds very challenging indeed but your graduate show was beautiful; four different lakescapes hung on the clear white gallery walls. It was such a calm and contemplative corner of the graduate show. How did the idea for it come about?
One of my life-long dreams is to make a contemplative space like The Church of Light by the Japanese architect, Tadao Ando. The sunshine through the cross shaped hole in a concrete wall is minimal and intense. I think we feel a similar atmosphere to this in the Mark Rothko room at the Tate Modern. There is the something very sublime in those spaces.
I consider my works as whispering so they need their own separate, quite place. The graduate show is huge and there are so many different works and some of them are very loud. I wanted to give the audience a type of well which is full of self-reflective water. So I tried to make a calm space. All the works in the show were painted with Korean watercolour paint on traditional Hanji paper.
There was definitely a sense of calm and serenity in your corner of the show. Can you tell us a little more about the Hanji paper and what drew you to it?
All the works are about the essence of fading away. Thin Hanji paper is delicate, so I thought that could deliver a symbol of fragility. It allows water to softly permeate and spread. I let the water, with a hint of shade, spread and fill the space to emphasise a watery and ephemeral mood. By using Korean watercolour paint, without specific water glue, also made it very spreadable. The traditional use of the medium is to make sharp, accurate lines and lucid colour in Korean oriental painting but, as you can see, I used them as I like.
My works are mostly about ephemerality and this time I wanted to focus on the fragile and disappearing moments that cause nostalgia. Using Hanji paper and Korean watercolours, allows me to represent the mood and feeling of this rather than recreating an accurate representation of the physical landscape.
Sticking on the Korean theme, and diving a bit into your family background, your parents come from two very different fields: your mother is a Buddhist monk and your father an architect. Do either of these backgrounds influence your work at all?
Yes. I was interested in Buddhist philosophy and that brought me to the Existentialists and Nihilists. I am always attracted by ‘Vain and Vanitas’ but I feel that this is not a reminder of death, rather it is about a flow of life. I am constantly thinking about this. Nothing is fixed. Everything is disappearing. Present is the only thing we have. That way of thinking comes from my mother’s side, but the way to materialise these ideas are from my father.
I tend to think about spaces in the round, rather than flat objects, so I try to make contemplative room installations. I think that is one of my father’s influences. I want audiences to experience the space around my paintings. That is the reason why I set my degree show up in a room with four walls.
The region around me is also one of the main elements to influence my creativity and thought process. There was always a gap between who I am and where I am. In my hometown, I felt that I was a stranger in a conservative countryside. Then after I moved to Seoul and London, I became a stranger in those cities.
I feel this lake series is 'a home for a homeless.’ When my political identity did not suit the culture, I was conscious of myself as a stranger. Isolation and sorrow are initially personal, but some artworks that indicate those feelings could comfort another one. I always hope that my work could provide a space to look at oneself with consolation.
Well it is safe to say that your work certainly provides the viewer with a calm and quiet moment to reflect.
So, you have now graduated and the world is your oyster. What is next for you and how can The Auction Collective readers follow what you are up to?
I feel that I finally got the knife, so I need to try to open the oyster. Whilst at home in Korea, I want to paint more because this is the moment to find the blue bird. When I forget what I have here, I will go back to London to find a pearl. Maybe I will study and start the MA course. Let’s see what will happen…follow me on Instagram @j.seo.art to stay in the loop!
J Seo – thank you very much!
Two works from J Seo's Final Year Show are being sold in the Sea-Fever auction:
Lot 12: Untitled, 53 x 75 cm, £700-900
Lot 30: Untitled, 79 x 143 cm, £900-1,200