Young London Painters Interview – Minyoung Choi
Originally published to accompany the group exhibition ‘Young London Painters’ at Arthill Gallery, presented by Admission Productions and curated by Hector Campbell (22nd - 24th November, 2018)
May 2019

Hector Campbell: You recently completed an MA in Fine Art from the Slade School of Fine Arts, having previously studied in your native Seoul at the Seoul National University. You’ve decided to stay in London after graduating, what is it that you like about the London art scene? And the city in general?

Minyoung Choi: I like the fact that London has lots of opportunities for young artists. I have never seen a city that attracts so many talented artists from all over the world. There are so many different exhibitions happening all the time in London that it is hard to catch all of them! Many of the contemporary painters I admire are based in London, and I find being present in this kind of art scene very important. Also, I love going to the National Gallery, spending a few minutes there regularly without feeling the pressure of having to see as much as I can in one, rare visit. Living in London has enabled me to do all these things, and has become inseparable for my painting routine. 

H.C: Your work often considers the ideas of childhood, memory and imagination, why do you find yourself drawn to this preoccupation with the past?

M.C: Perhaps I am idealising the memories of my childhood a little. They are not always happy memories but still, I admire the time when everything felt new and magical as a child. The fact that I remember things from the past also gives me a sense of continuity in life, or a sense of self, although those memories might not all be accurate. There are some things that haven’t changed in me. Also, I presume the physical distance from my hometown makes me yearn for that certain time and place.

However, my painting doesn’t necessarily represent an exact image of my hometown or of the scenery around it. In other words, I do not paint my memories as they are. It must be the concept or the quality of imagined childhood that is visualised in my works. I am fascinated by imagery that has the potential of being someone’s memories.

H.C: Animals also frequently find their way into your paintings, often anthropomorphised or occupying an unnatural or surreal space. Do you feel a certain affinity with animals? Where does this interest in anthropomorphism come from?

M.C: I have loved animals since I was a kid. I have always been fascinated by animals and they make me think about life. I used to watch National Geographic on TV all day and I also had many tiny pets while I grew up. I often wished I could communicate with animals, and I enjoyed watching their behaviour. My interest in anthropomorphism might also come from watching animations and cartoons which showed anthropomorphised animal characters. In these shows, animals were often depicted as characters that interacted harmoniously with human figures, or there would be human characters that could transform into certain animals when they need to, which I found fascinating.

I don’t call myself a Buddhist, but am very familiar with some Buddhist doctrines. Animals are regarded as sentient beings in Buddhism which I agree with. I am also familiar with the idea that humans could be reborn as animals, and that animals could be reborn as humans. I think it is interesting that they believe humans and animals to be part of a single family, that they are all interconnected. 

H.C: As well as being a painter, you are also a poet, and last year released a self-published collection of your work. How do these two artistic outputs relate to one another? Does one influence the other?

M.C: I rarely paint what I have written in my poems, I think they are slightly different tools for me. My poems often directly describe strange and vivid scenes from some of my dreams, which was never been depicted in my paintings. Writing a poem is a much quicker process than painting, they are more about playing with the words, shaping the subject matter or repeating similar structures to create a kind of rhythm. However, recently I can see that my poems and paintings do share similar subject matter. They can both be seen as dreamy and mysterious. I might eventually paint things that are mentioned in my poems, I will see what happens.

H.C: Finally, could you give us a little insight into the works you’re creating for the upcoming exhibition?

M.C: I am mainly focusing on painting fish tanks at the moment. I have painted several small fish tanks so far and think it is good to push the idea further for a while. I am currently working on a fish tank containing a big fish that I have imagined. I feel sorry for the really big fish kept in a limited space, and feel the same when I see them occasionally in real life. In my painting, I want to think that the fish is kept there temporarily.