Photo of a Niki de Saint Phalle piece by Julie Kim 

Studio Diaries 2

“Sometimes, we need an inspirational interval to gather ideas in between terms of productivity.”

By Julie kim


This past month has not been much of a painting spell, but rather a frenzy of scattered bits and pieces of inspiration found mostly on Instagram, but also in unforgettable moments of exhibitions I visited, and within the streets I walked and friends I shared time with. There has been a steady cadence with which sights, sounds, and smells appealed to me and remained in my mind with more vigor than usual. Sometimes, we need an inspirational interval to gather ideas in between terms of productivity. At least, that’s what I tell myself to excuse the lack of art being produced.  

Exhibition Log

On a Sunday morning, in a severe post-weekend haze that majorly fogged up my mind, I took the 7 train east to Moma PS1. This was my first, and long overdue, trip to the museum. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the industrial architecture and outdoor-indoor integration of both Dia:Beacon and Mass MOCA. After recharging with an iced coffee, I blindly headed into two of the most introspective exhibition experiences I would have this summer––one being painful, harrowing, and intimate, and the other being prismatic, animated, and equally as haunting as the former.

Gregg Bordowitz: I Wanna Be Well

The records of New York native AIDS activist Gregg Bordowitz asserted its presence in the space, quietly at first, then louder as we progressed through the rooms. The first thing I noticed was what an incredibly talented writer he was. A collection of 24 poems spanned the entire exhibition space, inside almost every room. Each poem was a block of text on the wall, and each line was composed of individual words––associated in some way, shape, or form––becoming a family of words that painted a vague picture and illustrated how Bordowitz’ brain operated. You could tell he was ruminating on a specific feeling or happening, first marked by one word, then soon brought to life by a chain of related words, sometimes as random as “pickle” and others more brooding, like “ apocalypse.” I considered trying this out as a free-write exercise myself, to emancipate my floating thoughts and pick my brain.

Mid-way through the exhibition was a video of Bordowitz and fellow patients diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, conversing about their acceptance of death. I was unable to move past this heart-wrenching dialogue for the remainder of my viewing of Bordowitz’ works, replaying their aching embrace of fate in my head.  


Niki de Saint Phalle: Structures for Life

The first, wide-open, white room already exhaled a gleaming, fever-dream-like spirit. I felt like I was wandering around a funhouse. 3D models of playgrounds and sculptures reminiscent of ancient Egyptian icons, and flashy color palettes filled the rooms. The gravity of Bordowitz’ work still lingered, laying an appropriate foundation on top of which to digest this new body of works. Saint Phalle, being an activist herself, used eye-catching, loud, and unabashed art to convey the brutal reality of the AIDS crisis, amongst other violence and injustices during her time. She does two things excellently; she employs such a wide range of colors in a singular piece but still retains harmony that’s easy on the eyes, and she mingles words and images on the same page, almost like a greeting card. Her work is currently sitting front-seat in my brain as a fruit of inspiration for colors and incorporating text and messages in my work.



- How much interplay visual art and written words have - I can be a writer and an artist at the same time, with both practices being food for each other.

- The power of spoken words in video art.

- Showing artists are real, live, people who grew up and made friends and had a life - met a woman who went to college with Gregg.

- Sometimes explicit words and content get through better to those who aren’t accustomed to decoding visual art.

- The mastery of explicitness and subtlety.

A collection of findings and ideas for the future:

I have explored rooms as embodiments of my mental environment and as oases of memories in the past, but I am feeling so much more drawn to them at the moment, as I simultaneously draw back from urges to make portraits.


So far, I have one idea of a figure inside a church, as an exploration of my Catholic roots, partially influenced by one of Niki de Saint Phalle’s works, and partially being birthed from a scene in Lady Bird that I have not been able to forget since the day I watched it––the one where she wakes up the morning after her first college party and steps inside a church, listening in on the choir sing, completely disheveled, and on the verge of tears.

Within the rooms, I want to paint items with meaning and sentiment, but also random nick nacks meant only for taking up space: books, bottles, cleaning spray, dirty laundry, etc. A part of this depiction of inanimate objects for me will be about stylistically creating more animated paintings.

I have been meaning to explore painting rooms absent of bodies but with the presence of the person or people to whom the room belongs. Objects hold our presence. We define people through objects sometimes; whether it’s an innocent, thoughtful gesture such as getting a friend a spontaneous gift because the thing reminded us of them, or a judgement that we make about someone based on what items and clothing we associate with them, which comes with consequences. Rather than paint a person, I’m trying to find ways to make indirect portraiture using representations that tell someone’s story.

One of my favorite fashion icons/social media influencers/artists and former member of PAQ (my favorite fashion Youtube channel which is sadly no longer active), Shaquille-Aaraon Keith, who goes by @shakka.d.badmon, recently posted a delightful yellow ochre and burnt umber two- toned painting of a room cluttered with childhood mementos and household items. He also accompanied it with a poem he wrote, which further inspired me to continue to write about my art, and derive words from painting, and painting from words.

Douglas Cantor:

Masters figure and room relations, the human as solely ONE element of an image, not THE subject.

Ga Hee Park:

Playful colors, fully rendered objects, emphasis on three dimensionality––I miss thick layers of paint and achieving opaque surfaces rather than transparent and diluted ones.

Despite this, I have still been mesmerized by artists who don’t paint with the opacity that I tend to conjure on the canvas, and instead make their mark in a more fleeting, elusive manner, like

Jakob Steen:

and Marilyn Sonneveld, both of whom I’ve been thinking about whilst painting my recent painting of the room of characters:

During a recent visit to the Met, I was able to revisit Gauguin’s work with a new palate and fresh objective for my own practice.

I was most drawn to his collection from Tahiti. Bright primary colors, opaque coverage of the canvas, a candid observation of people in their environments.

Paul Gauguin - Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? ; The Seed of the Areoi


Which then reminded me of Henri Rousseau’s The Dream.

Immersed into the natural environment, a flattening of the outdoors into a realm that is more animated, contained, and curated. Confronting my adversity towards nature imagery - regaining control over it through the stylistic approaches of Frida, Gauguin, and Rousseau.

A new objective I’m looking forward to: Toeing the line between illustrative and surreal, a bit of Gauguin, a bit of Frida, and a bit of Rousseau.


Some minor updates:

As a timed project often is, my time with this commission piece was brief, but sweet. Here is how it turned out:

Painting of the room with Sela and friends, aka newly titled: Contemplation Room (When we reach the end of something where new do we start?).

After a couple sessions of small, indecisive mark making, then one long session led by impulses and a firm determination to finish, I have finally chosen to declare this piece as finished.

Round one: I fleshed out more of the secondary characters, with more of a disconnect that I initially noticed. Heavier layers of nude tones on the right two characters, a wispy rendering of fingers for the guy on the left, a buildup of blue that is still not quite the shade I want for the man on the bottom right. And my personal favorite, the barely-there guitarist.


Round two:

I decided to conquer my fears of altering the background and made some assertive moves, such as painting pockets of dark blue and greys in the top right corner to create the illusion of a bigger room as well as night time, as I had intended. I also painted on patches of solid colors, inspired most of the aforementioned painters, risking overall cohesion and harmony and also taking away the spotlight from Sela. Refocusing the attention on Sela was a quick fix, though, as I went in with more of my ultramarine-burnt umber mix to darken outlines and shade in her shirt, and also brighter tones to layer on top of her skin to match and mimic the brilliance of the rest of the canvas.

I was ruminating on these three words: commitment, conversation, contemplation. “Contemplation Room” stuck in my head. I liked the sound it echoed. As love was the original overarching theme with which I started painting this piece, I referenced some Carver quotes from What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, and decided to pay homage to a line in the short story Gazebo whilst committing to a verdict––just enough, but still vaguely––on the narrative wandering through this piece.