Julie Kim

Studio Diaries 3

I make art about the people I love, the emotions I feel, and memories that I hold close.

By Julie Kim


A recap of my life this past month to set the stage for the absolute soup of words I am about to pour out:

- An overconsumption of Veep. This show is honestly a Mary Poppins magic bag of S-tier insults.

- A Summer’s Tale by Rohmer, watched with my roommate Kate. Quiet, slow, and more honest about what love is like than real life itself.

- October 8: The Chloe Wise book signing at Printed Matter on Saint Marks! A firsthand experience of being starstruck. An amalgamation of butterflies, disappointment, and everything else that comes with meeting a legendary painter you idolize.

- October 9: James Blake at Radio City Music Hall. I don’t even know where to begin. The starting note of “Famous Last Words,” his opening song. The interim mixes of synth beats that got everyone standing up in their seats. Recognizing the familiar humming that opens “Retrograde” and screaming. Seeing everyone around me cry during the encore performance and spilling tears thrice myself. Somewhere in all of this, I watched the outside world wash away and was stuck in a blissful hour and a half of drinking up euphoria in its purest form. I was so honored to witness his genius and versatility as an artist in real time.

- My Tuesday printmaking class, where I’ve been trying my hand at silkscreen and mono print, feeling unsure in an art space for the first time in a long time. But also learning how to use a different part of my brain in being an image maker.

(Some tests and trials in monoprint)

- Finally getting back the paintings I had left behind in the painting studio from the 2020 spring semester when the pandemic had hit. Inspecting the marks I had made then, and thinking about how differently I would have made them now. Understanding that 90% of being an artist is constantly wanting to reinvent yourself.

Some paintings in the works:

“Saturdays are for the boys”––name subject to change, but this is what I am referring to this piece as for now.

Does being part of the new generation of contemporary artists today mean that my work should be conversational, philosophical, and even a bit controversial? (In the past month, I’ve been confronting this question, and it has been answered in more ways than one, but I’ll get back to this later.) This piece is my attempt at satire and maybe even a little bit of social commentary. While witnessing the artists around me make work that stares at you, invites you to inquire, challenges you, and challenges your perspectives, I’ve been wondering how I can give it my own shot. 

To set the scene: My roommates––Kate and Emma––and I sit side-by-side on our green couch. We are clad in white, lacy, over-the-top, costume-y attire. Our hands are placed together and on our laps, exactly the way that royals in their portraits are positioned. Warm, glowing orange and pink light beams over us, reflecting onto the wall. And the most conspicuous sight of all: a white SATURDAYS ARE FOR THE BOYS flag hanging directly above us, cut off at the top, but still recognizable. I want it to be brazen. In your face. Lastly, we are staring. Directly at you.

What started out as a normal roommate portrait that I was planning to hang above our couch became a meeting place for two different, and very distinct, visual inspirations.

First, I got an urge to incorporate the infamous flag as a point of satire in my work. What better place to put it, I thought, than in a painting of three people who very clearly are not “the boys” nor the type to un-ironically hang it up where we eat, sleep, and breathe? The juxtaposition seemed too good to pass up.

Second, I knew I wanted a breaking of the fourth wall, but thought I could amplify the eye contact by portraying us like royals. I did some image gathering of various royal portraits, from Catherine the Great to Queen Elizabeth to Princess Diana.


Something I noticed in all of the portraits was a hazy green atmosphere in the background. I recently learned in my figure painting class that most old paintings gradually reveal some green undertones because of the imprimatura that is laid as the base. I thought I could take this opportunity to seriously experiment with underpainting, which I’ve learned is a significant and very deliberate part of Chloe Wise’s painting process, as well as of many other painters’ processes. My painting professor revealed that he always does an underlayer of grisaille painting (black and white painting in full detail) and paints over it in color. Improvisation has worked great thus far, but I’m learning to be more deliberate and take advantage of techniques to produce specific visual moments.

Orange and blue are my go-to colors, and I wanted to involve them in a (hopefully) effective scheme to make the underpainting colors not only show through, but change and interact with the colors painted on top. I started by priming the top half of the canvas––where the wall would be––with a phthalo green and gamsol wash, and the bottom half of the canvas with an orange wash.

Then, after letting them dry, I started laying the warm tones on top, and the cool tones of the couch and the blue underpainting of our bodies on the bottom. It was such a moment of bliss.

After painting the faces for a while, I realized how saturated and vibrant the painting looked and wanted to tone down the hues to the volume that the reference paintings were exhibiting. I am still in the process of neutralizing reds with greens. I’ve built the greens of the shadows and the couch thus far by adding in a pink made with cadmium red. I want to retain the warm light source, but also ensure that the bright colors and spunky tone do not take center stage. I want the atmosphere to be serious and a bit cold, while still emitting playfulness. I am currently in the middle of making up my mind about our clothing. Executing a visualization is always a more complicated task than imagined.

Figure Painting assignment:

After weeks of painting models with limited palettes and a real limit on the narrative element, we were finally instructed to compose a piece to our liking, using one model and his three poses. I immediately was attracted to depicting voyeurism. I took the scale into my hands and painted one large figure on the bottom right edge of the canvas as the voyeur to act as the opening for the us, the viewer, to enter into the scene. The other figure is much smaller and placed as the object of the gaze. I am attempting to take after how Andrew Cranston conjures an atmosphere through his uses of color, lighting, and scale. The edges of the room are undefined, and I’m making my way towards a color palette that is darker than usual.


As noted in my last studio diary, I am discovering what it means to relate a subject to its environment and to make the environment part of the subject. I have been inspired by Toyin Ojih Odutola’s large-scale pastel pieces that put the figure and background in conversation so as to create an entire dimensional atmosphere rather than a simple figure and background contention. 

I took some photographs of my friends Tyrese and Thomas posing together in multiple locations on our campus. I want this piece to be a spell of friendship, love, youth, and big character, to really channel the close intimacy yet also spotlight the energy that percolates from Toyin’s pieces. I have not even gotten to the sketching stages yet, so this one is on the back burner for now, but everything I am thinking about and consuming lately will hopefully propel this piece to a better place. 

A period of listening, learning, and growing:

October 17: MFA studio visits

Last month, my Seminar in Contemporary Art Practice class visited the Columbia MFA students at their studio spaces on campus. Each time I am invited into someone else’s art practice, I realize the power and possibilities that come from combining multiple materials and art-making methods. I saw worlds of sculpture, painting, printmaking, collaging, and construction collide.

Some thoughts I had and am still ruminating on:
  • The power play nestled in the act of letting found objects speak for you
  • Where do I find my voice in my work? Is my practice too direct? Painting as a dying art (it isn’t!!!!) Am I too literal?
  • I want to have a distinct aesthetic; the importance of a trademark in today’s art world

I want to circle back to the point I made earlier about what the role of the contemporary artist is today. It feels like young artists are encouraged to make art that directly intertwines with and opens conversation about relevant social, political, or philosophical discourses and events. Or even simply art that engages the audience to consider WHAT art is. This line of thought might merely be the byproduct of the frequency at which I have been discussing art in academic settings lately. But this pressure to make something new and different––to pioneer something great––is and always will be alive.

I’ve started thinking of ways to distinguish myself through finding my artistic identity and subject matter that is true to me. My blue and crimson painting of my father and I has amassed quite a fanbase. Do I exploit this color combination and make it one of my trademarks? The Gerard Richter blur that I incorporated as well––do I continue placing this into my future work? Do I talk about the cool and the warm beyond a physical color palette but as a thematic recurrence? How about my Asian-American identity, and my Korean heritage that I have barely touched upon in my paintings? I feel regret about this neglect the more I encounter other artists’ works. I look at visual arts alumni and other contemporary artists wielding this honorable subject matter so successfully. 

Remembering, or holding onto disappearing moments in blue.

In my Seminar in Contemporary Art Practice class, we discuss what contemporary art even means in different contexts. As part of a larger assignment, I picked three artists to research: Toyin Ojih Odutola, Salman Toor, and Andrew Cranston. The things I admire about these artists are the very things that I am concerned about achieving myself: establishing clear self-identity and testifying to a distinguishable story and aesthetic. But as an artist, I am learning to extend a different mindset in understanding both their work and my own. It is crucial to differentiate between seeing their practices through a very distancing lens––as a tokenized identity narrative––versus having no limitations, where you see the image for what it is: a mark of the artist’s presence, an occupation of their mind, a testament to what they care about addressing and eternalizing in a certain moment.

In one of the videos I watched while researching Toyin Ojih Odutola, I noted some words she spoke:
  • Step outside of this purview of being the oppressed. The other.
  • The center stage is the imperialist project.
  • As an image maker, try to make different dimensions and realities for people to view the world.

My professor encouraged me not to exploit what is dear to me and not to exocitize parts of myself for the sake of what I think the art world wants. I make art about the people I love, the emotions I feel, and memories that I hold close. I make art to see how colors interact when they are put next to, under, and over each other. I make art to transfer my interior to a physical state of being, so that I can see what it looks like, and so that others can also see what it looks like.

Who do I make art for? Myself, first. The people can see what they want to see.