Joe Whang is a South Korean artist based in Jersey City. He has a BFA degree in illustration and an AAS degree in graphic design from Parsons. Before he went to Parsons, he studied fine arts in South Korea through his late 20’s. He has gained recognition with his illustration works from prestigious organizations such as World Illustration Awards in U.K., Applied Arts Magazine in Canada, American Illustration, and 3×3 Magazine. He is currently focusing on paintings. He finds inspirations from elderlies and things that are old.
We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I was born in South Korea. I was influenced by family members who were musicians and artists. I was surrounded by vintage ad posters and animations like Looney Tunes and Disney. That led me to have interest in graphic design. I went to Parsons to study Graphic Design, but I got more interested in drawing and painting and transferred to the illustration program. After graduation, I have been working on creating images digitally and on canvas.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice? Is there a theme you are currently addressing?
For the past few years, my main theme has been elderlies. I like their body gestures, facial expressions, fashion styles, and personalities.
I also started exploring other objects I have always liked since I was a kid. I like the old American cultures such as music, movies, animations, TV shows, ads, sports, fashion, toys, cars, and products. I like the colors and styles found in them. I like exploring them in my paintings.
What is your experience like moving from Korea to the US?
During my first few years in the US, I felt like an outsider, and everything seemed different. And it became my habit to observe people and ordinary things on the streets of New York. I became particularly interested in older people because I felt that they seemed like outsiders like me.
Do you have a mentor that has influenced your practice?
Jordin Isip. He is a professor at Parsons. I took his classes during my senior year there. He encouraged me to apply for shows and competitions and invited me to participate in group shows he organized.
What does “community” mean to you? How do you see yourself in a community?
I feel a sense of community where I am physically present. As I am mostly in New York City and Jersey City, I feel I am part of those communities.
I think people often pay more attention to newer things and younger people. However, I think a community is where old and new exist together in harmony. For example, even though New York seems to be fast-paced and filled with brand-new things, it also has old elements such as historic buildings, old shops, and senior citizens.
It seems to me that older people are often overlooked in a community. As an artist, I want to draw more attention to the older people in my community by painting them.
What are you working on right now?
Recently, I have been painting athletes, fashion models, and portraits based on the images I found in old magazines and photographs.
Is there any advice that you would like to share with others?
I hope everyone remembers we are surrounded by both old and new and appreciates the old as well as the new.
text & photo courtesy of Joe Whang