Wook Kim sees patterns in every day life and quietly files them away in his head. An avid daydreamer, he is always absorbing his environment. And lucky for us because Wook eventually creates ethereal wall art for our consumption. His world is filled with animals and exotic motifs. Wook graduated from Cranbrook Academy of Art's high profile MFA program and is now teaching textile art at the Rhode Island School of Design. The NY Times recently gave him a shout out. The art world is noticing. It’s about time.
How many careers have you had? What is your current title?
Careers: Artist, Graphic Designer, Textile Designer, Sweatshop Worker, and Teacher. Current Title: Life Juggler.
What project will you be working on next?
Projects that will let me grow and build my utopia.
Your house is burning down. What one possession (aside from human/animal life) would you grab on the way out?
Material objects are replaceable.
When and how did we meet?
David spoke highly of both you and Silvio, during my last few months at Cranbrook. I have to say that I was excited to meet you both. I met you both at the opening of the Joan Mitchell Show at the Whitney during the summer of 2002. Souris you were very animated and Silvio was very reserved. The conversation I remember that night was talking to you about old video game consoles, and I believe that you had just purchased EJ an Atari 2600. It wasn't until I got back from my summer trip and it was in the beginning of the Fall, when we started to have lengthier conversations. I realized and felt that you and the Don were people I were happy to let into my life. You have both been tremendous help for your kindness and for all the times I needed peeps to talk to and lean on.
Please explain your current title of Life Juggler.
I like using the metaphor of a juggler, though it is obvious, it’s appropriate for me at the moment. The idea of having to balance and concentrate on a variety of items or events (family, friends, design, collaborating, artwork, teaching) that occur once the action of momentum begins. It’s the momentum of adding and completing a cycle, whether it is on my own or with others, that makes me feel lucky and allows me see how rich my life is.
Can you describe to me what 24 hours in a day might look like for you?
I am not sure how to answer that to be honest. I had a hard time answering that the last time. My days are not regulated unless it’s a teaching day. Though I am trying my hardest to know when to stop a day, I never really know what the difference is with a Monday and a Saturday. 24 hours for me is life. I am working, playing and spending time with family and friends, studying, or asleep.
What exactly is Textile Design?
The ability to take a single thread and construct a fabric is magical. Textiles through time have had all kinds of metaphors to life, in application and concept. Textile Design is a pretty broad field, but primarily involves the creation or attention to surfaces through structure, pattern, or both, to create material.
How did you get started in this field?
I went to RISD for my undergrad degree with the idea that I would go into painting, but that didn’t happen. I studied graphic design for a year, but wasn’t totally sold that this was going to be two more years of my life. One class I took was a class about visual structures and it began my interest in using structures to build a visual language. That summer I found myself in a very happy, but unfulfilled internship and re-evaluated my educational trajectory. The structure class had a big impact on me and it made sense to look at the textiles department. I called Maria, the head of textiles, and I switched to textiles. I found that the department had the right balance of technical and conceptual. I was able to work in a fluid way on bodies of work.
What, or who, inspires you?
Life is inspirational. I think its really about showing up to everyday of my life. As long as I keep myself aware, and watch time shift and move, people and things from the present to the past inspire me to do what I do. What's the point of making in a historical or personal vacuum? It is about creating a current dialogue and in that conversation, inspiration is moved between us.
What is your process for creating patterns?
The process is driven depending on the work. Customer work is driven by market needs and concerns. My own work is driven by my own needs as a maker.
We had talked about your creating a dragonfly pattern before it appeared on the mass market. What, if any, is the latest trend in design in your opinion?
We are a consuming economy. As consumers and collectors, we want to have special items in our lives. With goods being mass marketed, poorly made and non-reusable with non-sustainable applications, we have to re-examine what it is that is being made. I think one of the results have been a re-address and romance of craft. I think crafting something takes time and slows us down and helps us to understand what it is that we are adding for consumption. I think everyone knows someone who is knitting these days, and it is in crafting that I think an education in craftsmanship forms an understanding of ethical labor and quality are formed. At least this makes sense in my little Utopian world.
To answer your dragonfly question, I don't think I have ever followed market data. I try to look at things beyond a want and a need. I don't know if I am ever right or wrong at any given moment, but I trust myself when something feels right. That feeling is not just a shot in the dark, but an understanding of time from present to past. It is being aware of a moment and the passing of the moment and the push to keep making more moments happen.
Is all your work for production only? Do you ever accept commissions for one-off pieces?
I accept work that I find interesting. I am very fortunate that I am able to do various kinds of work, which keeps my work life open ended. The work is either production or a one off, depending on the client. I can't say that I prefer one over the other, because it is from a client to client basis, but again I have been blessed to have great clients and patrons, as well as doing what I want to do.
You are a graphics artist, a painter and an installation artist too. Do you have a favorite medium for your creativity?
I do not have a favorite medium. Medium or material use has a more direct relationship to form and a particular idea that I may have when I begin a new piece. I do find often I find myself attracted and interested in materials that have an ephemeral nature. My interest in materials such as paper, light and sound have to do with ideas of non-permanence, qualities of decomposing or passing. The quality of passage sets us in a place within space that creates an understanding of the preciousness of a moment that we hold on to in the existence of our memory.
What do you do when your creative juices stop flowing or when you lack inspiration?
I don't think that has ever happened. I find that I have to keep moving. If I stop then I don't know what I would do. But then I think I am always keeping the reservoirs to capacity.
Do you panic when we tear you away from your work to play?
I do panic and it’s not pretty (laughing). I do realize that I need to learn to relax. Part of my new years resolution and lose the nick name “work”.
What was the last strange thing you saw that struck you as beautiful?
Last strange beautiful thing I saw in a photo was the photo of that boulder on the freeway you had on your website. It was beautiful to see this large boulder sitting and not budging. There has been a great loss and helplessness with the lives lost in the tsunami, but the irrationality of nature is beautiful and that I am always in awe of what it gives and takes away from us.
I totally agree. Nature is so beautiful in all its power.
Reminds us that we have only so much we can control, everything else is chance.
Any advice for aspiring Textile Designers?
Trust yourself, enjoy yourself and don’t screw anyone, because we are all in this together.