Reinterpret Ancestral Memories and Cultural Visual Traditions, NYC-based Artist Jeannie Rhyu

New York-based artist Jeannie Rhyu was born in Seoul, South Korea, and raised in Vancouver and Toronto, Canada. She graduated from Columbia University in the City of New York. Her work has been exhibited internationally in shows in New York, Vancouver, Hong Kong, Seoul, Beijing, and London. Selected exhibitions include shows at The Border Gallery (New York), Seefood Room (Hong Kong), Spring/Break Art Show (New York), Shin Gallery (New York), Field Projects and Tutu Gallery (New York), and Leroy Neiman Gallery (New York). She has given artist talks at Columbia University and for community-based organizations. Currently, Rhyu is working on a series of oil paintings exploring folklore, rituals, emotions, and ancestral memories.

Special Guests, Oil on canvas, 60 x 72 in, 2022

Thank you for joining us, Jeannie. Can you tell us a little about yourself? 

I am an artist based in Queens, New York. I was born in Seoul, South Korea, and raised in Vancouver and Toronto, Canada. I came to New York in 2013 to attend Columbia University, fell in love with the city, and stayed ever since.

Currently, I am focused on my oil painting and mono-printing practice. I am exploring ancestral memories, and emotional impressions of reality through my paintings. When I refer to ancestral memories, I think of the collective wisdom of the past, defined by key moments from cultural history that are distorted and blurred by the passage of time and yet embody universal experiences shared by many. I think a lot about the visual cultural traditions that I grew up with in Canada and Korea, especially emblematic animals and anthropomorphized plants. I am inspired by Korean folklore, rituals, history, fairy tales, archetypal symbols, transcultural femininity, as well as the magic of memories. I paint to understand my connection to my past and I hope to share special moments from my memories with people who share a similar collective understanding.

Ode to Lee Bul, Oil on canvas, 11 x 14 in, 2022

What brings you to art? What is your creative process like? 

I’ve been making art for as long as I can remember. It feels the most natural for me to create something, and I get a lot of comfort in knowing that I can make my own set of rules while building the world I want through my art. 

My creative process involves a lot of researching and dreaming, so oftentimes the images I want to paint crystallize into visions as I daydream about imagery and concepts from my recent obsessions. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about fish and eggs. I like to collect photos of historical artifacts from museums, research ritual traditions, and study visual motifs and archetypal symbols from documented history. Then, I transform the existing visual language into symbolic vessels of memories that connect me to my roots. I also like to study native plants, mythical creatures, and emblematic animals as a way to honor and renew our relationship with nature, spirits, and primal energies. I am constantly drawing in my sketchbook. I love it when I end up painting an image that has been fermenting in my sketchbook for a few months.

Ginseng’s Dream, Oil on canvas, 11 x 14 in, 2022

What is the most exciting project that you have worked on during the past few years?

I think about this a lot, but honestly, getting the key to my studio in Long Island City has to have been the most exciting moment of my career in the past few years. I have so much freedom in my own studio that once I enter, I never want to leave.  

Aside from all the exciting projects that I’ve been working on in my studio, I’ve been interviewing artists for my online interview platform called “Mint Tea“. I launched this project in April 2021 because after months of painting in isolation during the pandemic, I craved community and I wanted a platform where I could share conversations I have with my creative friends. Having lived and worked in New York for almost a decade, I realized that I had a lot of friends who were either artists or worked in a creative field like filmmaking or graphic design, so I started interviewing them over a cup of tea. Not long after, Mint Tea branched out to friends of friends and artists whose work I’ve been admiring for a long time. I was even able to connect with artists who I wasn’t previously familiar with through our open call. It’s been two years of amazing conversations and warm support. This project is truly dear to my heart. 

Dance of the Flowers, Oil on canvas, 30 x 40 in, 2022

What does “community” mean to you? Has your local community inspired you as an artist?

Community is really important to me. Studio artists like myself often have the habit of never leaving the studio, staying elbow-deep in paint. I love doing this, but it turns out that I am actually a social person who gets a lot of energy from having friends. Catching up with my peers at openings and other art events and meeting new connections through them is so important to me.

Dreaming Butterflies, Oil on canvas, 30 x 40 in, 2022

What are you working on right now?

I am always working on about twelve paintings at the same time in my studio. They are all in different stages of completion, as I like to let my layers completely dry before working on them further. Oil paint also dries a bit slower than water-based paint, so it really works out perfectly. I get really anxious when I don’t have any empty surfaces to paint on, so you can find me priming new canvases every other week at the least. 

I recently restarted my mono-printing practice as well. I used to make prints in college, and I am so excited to pick up this journey again. What I love about creating unique monoprints is how it helps me loosen up my brushstrokes and experiment more with my images and symbols. When I paint on the plate for the prints, I think a lot about light and how it affects an image, visually and emotionally. I also find working in a communal print shop so fun. I love talking to other printmakers in between prints.  

Is there any advice you would like to share with others?

Go for it! Who cares what other people think? 

Thousand Year Ginseng Elixir, Oil on canvas, 36 x 48 in, 2022

text & photo courtesy of Jeannie Rhyu

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