Having met in 2015 during their Masters in Painting at the Slade School of Fine Art, Minyoung Choi and Mircea Teleagă continue to influence one another. The artists now share a studio together in East London, and while their painting practices differ in content, a similar palette and shared tendency to look to memory and nostalgia found in places, objects and traditions can be drawn between the two, often transpiring by way of repeated motifs. During what were supposed to be individual studio visits, bo.lee founder Jemma Hickman found herself distracted by the paintings on the other side of the room, and quickly, the exhibition that we are now proud to introduce began to curate itself.
Minyoung Choi’s paintings explore aspects of time and place in the context of her memories. She allows her personal memories to be altered by vicarious experiences such as movies, cartoons, animations, novels, stories and photos she encounters, and frequently derives her motifs from her rough drawings or from found images. She creates surreal moments by making ordinary places or scenes become strange and mysterious, by manipulating lights, shadows or other elements. Light, in its various radiating sources – the moon, a laptop screen, a television, a lamp – often provides the focal point of the composition. Choi conveys the vaguely unreal reality that pervades imagination, dreams and memory, and which settles over familiar environments, people and things.
Minyoung Choi was born in Seoul, South Korea in 1989. She lives and works in London, and completed her MFA at Slade School of Art in 2017. Minyoung was the finalist for The RBA Rising Stars 2019, Shortlisted for the The Gilchrist-Fisher Award 2018 and Dentons Art Prize, 2018, and winner of the Wells Art Contemporary Award- Next Generation Art Prize.
Q & A with Minyoung Choi
Fish and tanks feature heavily in your paintings. What is their significance?
I have always been fascinated by animals since I was young. I used to watch National Geographic all the time and dream of seeing all kinds of creatures in real life. Naturally, I grew up with having tiny creatures around me as pets (but not necessarily) and the first animals that I sympathised with were fish. I remember goldfish swimming in a big ceramic bowl on my family’s balcony and a large glass fish tank for tropical fish in the living room.
My neighbourhood in my hometown of Daejeon was called ‘Eoeun’ which means ‘Fish is Hiding’. My primary school and the bridge over the river had the same name as well. I would imagine that fish are literally hiding in my town and that the whole place was underwater. I remember someone saying that seashells could be found in the neighbouring mountains as this place used to be an ocean a long time ago. For many trivial reasons, fish were particularly familiar to me and I felt that I am part of them somehow, like I am one of them too as my star sign happens to be Pisces also. When I paint big anthropomorphised fish, I empathise with them a lot, feeling that they represent some side of me.
I am also interested in the fish tank as an object in its own right. It is a glass box that holds nature. I love how the world is arranged inside of a confined glass box. It is a whole world for the fish and a small universe for me. It reminds me of the boundaries of the world I belong to.
If you could go anywhere in the world right now where would you go?
I have been wanting to revisit Jeju island which is the biggest island in South Korea. Its volcanic and tropical landscapes and beaches are really inspiring. It is so different from any other part of mainland Korea. I miss their seafood, especially sea-urchin noodle soup! When I went there last time, I remember the seaside being misty and humid because of hot weather which made everything more mysterious. When I go next time, I would like to take enough time to explore the landscape. I hope to climb Hallasan which is a dormant volcano.
What do you want people to feel when they look at your work?
I wouldn't want to force my views on people but I'd be happy if they saw something magical in my painting.
You use animals as metaphors and tools to tell your stories. If you were an animal what would you be, and why?
I think being attached to animals and imagining myself actually being an animal is such a different thing. It’s almost scary to imagine when I think about how most animals are treated in the world. In this case, I'd be a small bird that doesn't attract people at all so that I can live in peace.
Who/what has inspired you recently?
I watched a documentary film Samsara(2011) directed by Ron Fricke recently. It was on my watch list for a long time and I finally got to watch it properly over Easter. It is hard to put into words but it really did change my view on the world especially in regards to consumption and production. I have also been watching a documentary series called Ancient Tea Horse Road (2007) that shows the life of Tibetan people. They have a very harsh life but they seemed so humble. It was touching to see when they pray for all sentient beings to be happy.
Are you a Night Owl or Early Bird?
I used to be a Night Owl. I stayed in the studio until late and came back home when it is dark almost every day. I realised later that I was making more mistakes because I was tired. I was an early bird when I was an artist in residence in 2017 in Olvera, Spain because I had limited time to work. Normally I'm in between. Now I know I work better when I'm well-rested and my head is clear.
Born in Romania but working in London, Teleagă’s practice touches upon his heritage as well as referencing wider art history. Images often repeat themselves giving an odd sense of déjà vu as many of them deal with observation and belonging. Many works describe such places as balconies, landscapes and areas of border, the artist drawing on the political and social context of the native home country, however never directly and openly addressing the issues. The paintings are devoid of any characters, the viewer being the only character witnessing the lonely and alien places presented.
Mircea Teleagă was born in Romania in 1989. He completed a BA in Fine Art and Illustration at Coventry University in 2013, followed by an MFA in Painting at the Slade School of Fine Art in 2016. He was awarded the Sarabande Lee Alexander McQueen Scholarship for a period of two years – the duration of his MFA course at the Slade, selected by Dinos Chapman
Why are most of your paintings Untitled?
I think that leaving the works with no titles makes me and the viewer think about the works in different terms. It’s like trying to stick a label on something and it just peels off. At some point you’ll give up and start referring to the content and forget the label. The label usually talks about the one who labels and not about the content labelled.
I guess you can see it as an attempt to give people a bit more time in front of the work, rather than assaulting them with more information, many times superfluous. It’s like holding onto a non-conceptual state for a few more moments. That being said, I need to add that I see painting as a medium which is sufficient to itself and a verbal translation of it usually harms everyone and makes for a very muddy translation.
You often repeat images and motifs. What makes an image worthy of revisiting for you? What kind of connection is there with these places that invites you to revisit them again and again?
Repetition with variations is for me the most productive way of working. It’s like knowing something in stages and every time you revisit it, you peel off another thin layer. I guess I start work from what I know and from what I understand and at some point I kind of tell myself that the image I am starting from is just as good as any other.
The connection with the depicted places is only a starting point. The painting needs an image. I think I have spent quite a lot of time trying to make paintings with no images and that’s not quite possible. You need something to cling on to so that you can have what to leave behind. The viewer doesn’t need any prior knowledge when approaching these paintings. I think this is one of the deciding factors when putting a painting together: being careful to require the minimum prior commitment from the viewer.
The things I repeat in my work are the visual starting points, they form the starting subject matter and I think I somehow repeat them as they are expendable in a way. Maybe that is not the actual subject matter of the work, but by starting there you get to a different one, a discovered subject matter. After all, my aim is not to physically describe the places I am painting.
I guess something funny and contradictory happens here, where the repeated thing is crucial and meaningless at the same time and maybe it forms a Mobius strip and the important factor is that is always travels from one to the other.
When/where are you most inspired?
When I work and when I spend time with other works.
If you could exhibit anywhere in the world where would it be?
Leaving vanity aside, I think it would make the most sense to show my work where it would be easiest for people to experience it.
You work on a number of paintings at one time, what makes a painting ‘finished’?
I guess I work on many at the same time just so I won’t overwork. Besides the logistics of it all. Oil dries quite slowly and it’s really useful to put things on a backburner when trying to build up surfaces. There are so many instances when I ask myself ‘what if?’ and that generates an abundance of ideas and possible avenues, so in that sense I work on as many as I can at the same time. Starting a work can be a bookmark or a post it note, something to mark a valuable moment to be analysed and put into perspective later.
Usually it’s done when it’s done. I know it might sound stupid, but you know when you have finished eating or you know that you have woken up. It’s usually like that. Sometimes it’s not clear though and you are wondering if you can sleep a bit more or you feel greedy and trying to fit in a bit more cake.
Your palette often changes from very dark muted tones, to bright pinks and greens. How do you approach this change?
This is a very organic change. It’s a reaction. I work one way and then I want to approach something that is closer to the opposite. It’s a pendulum that is always swinging and I am thinking that the swings will get less and less wide and they will somehow centre and retain elements from all the sides.
As the physicality of the paintings is very important to me and due to the fact that the work is actually being created during the process of making, I make a very conscious effort to pay attention to the technical aspects of the work and to keep tuning the palette constantly.
Hot or cold?
In Conversation: Part II: Minyoung Choi and Mircea Teleagă