Sueim Koo is an award-winning abstract #Artist who was born in Seoul, South Korea and immigrated to America when she was thirty-six years old. Adjusting to life in America was initially hard for Sueim whose husband opened a fast food restaurant in 1999 that eventually grew to nine different locations. Sueim and her husband ran the restaurant business together but her heart was always in painting, and she made a point to set time aside each day to work on her #Art.

At fifty years of age, Sueim earned a BFA degree from SUNY and studied at the Art Student League in New York after graduation. To date, she has enjoyed a total of four solo shows at the Piermont Flywheel Gallery in upstate New York and New Jersey’s Riverside Gallery.

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Moreover, her art has been exhibited at Flushing Town Hall, Powerhouse Books and the Library of Weill Cornell Medical Center, among others. Her art has been a part of juried exhibitions at the Monmouth Museum, and Korea KTC TV Broadcast has interviewed her regarding her creations. In 2015, she was chosen as one of two artists to represent Korean art at a special event titled “Korea Night” which was hosted by the International House of Philadelphia.

Sueim Koo and her husband currently live in Nanuet, New York, while their adult son is attending the University of Virginia School of Law. She recently discussed her artwork and life in an exclusive #Interview.

Influences

Blasting News (BN): What influenced you to seek a career as a professional artist and how did you establish yourself in the industry and get your art seen?

Sueim Koo (SK): My mother produced and designed “Han Bok” dresses and had her own dress shop.

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I grew up surrounded by different shapes and colors of fabrics, mostly silk and delicate muslin. “Han Bok” dresses are very elegant and graceful traditional Korean dresses which are worn for special occasions.

I was exposed to the contrast of refined and mysterious colors. This environment influenced and developed my artistic interest. However, my mother advised me that I would not have a good income from art. Therefore, she didn’t want me to study art in school.

Twenty years later, I had a chance to see many masterpieces at the Metropolitan Museum. With each step I took, I became mesmerized by a new reality. For me, it resonated from another world. This awoke my undeveloped artistic nature.

This new way of seeing the world astounded me and gave me the courage to study art at SUNY Purchase. I had many amazing experiences through my study of art developed a passion for life. Although I started late, I was glad it was not too late. This passion continues to give me hope and leads me into the future.

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BN: Your work is very abstract, and you have stated that it's inspired by the human soul and emotions so how do you translate feelings into colors and forms?

SK: As a human being, I live with many memories, both good and bad. I express the memories of my life as abstract landscapes, but these landscapes lie beyond life itself. My memories are filtered and purified by time on the lake of what I call my soul. In this way, I create swaying and shimmering colorful shadows.

This emotional expression of sincerity and truth come from the depth of my soul. This essence cannot be described even by abstract forms. As I choose the colors, the defining forms, and patterns of papers, I develop a kind of Zen that comes from my deepest soul, as if wine begins to ripen.

BN: What are some of the stories behind your paintings and what mediums do you use to create them?

SK: My works have stories. I have been writing journals since I was a teenager. Whenever I felt strongly about something, I wrote it down. A few years ago, I had a chance to read my forty-year-old journals. It was an absolute thrill. I felt that I was experiencing the same exact moments as when I wrote about them so many years ago. I wanted to record those experiences and transfer the written memories into visual memories.

My main material is paper: rice paper and paper I decorate. I also use oil and acrylic. When I re-read my journals, I came upon some sentences guided me very strongly to those moments, written so long ago. I started to select colors and to tear papers, and to orchestrate them on canvas. As I attached torn designed papers and put colors on the canvas, I found this a means to go back to those sad or beautiful moments and to filter, transfer and purify significant memories.

Most of the titles of my artwork are in whole sentences since they are based on my memories. For example: “The snow-filled dawn was blue. On the moon of the blue dawn, I saw my father. Why is my father in that world?” or “The beginning of the fall was a pinkish, heartbroken time, and it turned ashen at the end. Was it one-sided love?” or “The sap-green sadness ripened into a scent of velvet.”

Experiences

BN: In how many countries have you exhibited your artwork and are you represented by any galleries right now?

SK: I was a representative artist with Piermont Flywheel Gallery for four years until 2016. In 2013, I was “The Artist of the Month” at Edward Hopper Art Center in Nyack, NY. In 2015, I was one of two representative Korean Artists at a special event, “Korea Night” at the International House of Philadelphia.

My works were exhibited in Korea, as well as in the states of PA, NJ, IL, CT and NY. In September 2017, I am scheduled to exhibit at the Korean Cultural Center in Washington, DC. Next year I plan to exhibit at Art Fairs in other countries especially in Latin America. I think people will appreciate my colorful images.

At present, I’m in a show at the Demouzy Gallery in the Rockville Center section of Long Island. The director of High on Visual Art (H.O.V) invited me to join their group exhibition there.

BN: You grew up in Korea and now live in America so how are the art scenes in the two nations similar and different?

SK: I came from Korea in 1996. I knew nothing of the art scene in Korea when I lived there. I developed my style after coming to America. Viewers in America have told me that they notice Asian cultural feelings in my works.

I think it’s because I use the textures of rice paper to express the textures of Han Bok fabrics, as I remember them from childhood. As for my sense of colors, I have developed them in America. Viewers have told me that my decisive expression of vivid colors comes from my years in America. Koreans prefer muted colors.

BN: You immigrated to America over twenty years ago, so you think your experiences as an immigrant have impacted your art at all?

SK: It was like restarting life from square one when I immigrated to America. Life was so hectic that I did not even get to go on a small vacation for the first ten years in America! Every day was full of stress. But those hard times encouraged me (for perhaps forced me) to ponder about what essence of life is and what attitude is needed to overcome hardship.

When I moved here, I faced a totally different culture and encountered strange new things and a variety of people. But these opportunities taught me to broaden my way of thinking. And my experience here, helped me develop the strength to overcome any hardship and to see the positive things in life. Ultimately, America helped me muster up the courage to take my experiences—even painful and sad ones—and turn to them in unique visual memories.

BN: What are some of the most rewarding things about having a career as a professional artist?

SK: I believe art gives us a chance to see how other people think through their works of art. When I look at them, they help me to view the world in different ways than I am used to. As an artist, I have the chance to develop the means to understand others from various perspectives. I value my opportunity of being an artist because I can create something which is beautiful and valuable to me, and hopefully will help others to develop positive attitudes.

BN: What's coming up next for you and what are your grandest goals for your future?

SK: My art is a way to communicate not only to my American community but also to others in other countries. If my works resonate with even one person in the way that I felt when I visited the Met in New York City, I will have achieved my grandest goal. I will continue to strive in my art for that reason.