by Len Lear
For Clara Soyoun Kim’s entire life, she has had two key passions: art and nature. She entered college at a late age, 28, to study landscape architecture in her native Korea. She graduated in 1988 but soon “decided that I would like to spend the rest of my life doing what my true passion is: painting! So I quit my job and came to America to study painting.”
Kim, 62, came to the U.S. on Dec. 23, 2009, and managed to pay bills by teaching English grammar and comprehension to students preparing for university entrance exams. She proceeded to graduate from Montgomery County Community College, majoring in Fine Arts, and then from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
A resident of Germantown for the last four years, “I chose the apartment in Germantown because of the nearby Wissahickon Park. From my living room on the 13th floor, I can look down to the luscious greenery and beautiful historic apartment buildings.”
Meanwhile, Kim’s stunning nature paintings have so impressed local art mavens at numerous juried shows (she sold 12 paintings at a PAFA Annual Student Exhibition) that an exhibit of her work, “Blooming,” opened June 4 and will continue through June 28 at Center on the Hill, 8855 Germantown Ave. (A reception will be held Sunday, June 24, 3-5 p.m.)
“My favorite show was the Wayne Art Center’s juried show, ‘Nude and Figure,’ because it was a very big juried show that many professional artists not only from around the country but also from abroad participated in.”
Who are Kim’s own favorite artists? “I am especially interested in Mondrian and Joan Mitchell. Both of them developed their abstract paintings while painting trees. Mondrian created geometric abstract paintings, and Joan Mitchell created expressive abstract paintings … I too want to forge my own unique artistic vision as I delve into painting trees.”
How does an artist choose her subjects? “I don’t choose my subjects; I encounter them. I am deeply attracted to the beauty created by radiating light. It fills me with a strong desire to express it and share it with other people. For example, one day while I was going down the stairs of Chelten Train Station, I was touched by the beautiful geometric shapes and color created by the light. I had never thought the station was beautiful before, but now I wanted to paint it. The image of the painting is now on the board beside the entrance of the Chelten station. People can see it when they enter the gate before stepping down to the platform. I received an email from a person who saw the painting and was so moved by it that she would like to have it hanging on her wall!”
What is it like to try to make a living as an artist? “It is not easy. It may be stressful. I just enjoy the act of painting itself. I want to create my paintings in a carefree manner, easily and spontaneously, just as a fisherman sitting beside a lake thoroughly enjoys himself without necessarily intending to catch a big fish. However, I also wish that one day I will paint a real masterpiece which reflects my own true self. In fact, the joy of the creative process of painting itself is its own reward. Parents don’t expect their children to pay them because the joy they received while raising them is compensation enough.”
When she is not painting, Kim loves walking in Wissahickon Park. “When I am under stress or have something to consider, I go out for a walk. While I am walking among the trees, my mind becomes attuned and peaceful. I come home with a stress-free mind and the answer I was looking for.”
What was the best advice Kim ever received? “That would be from one of my professors at PAFA: ‘The most important thing to do is have fun and first and foremost, to express YOURSELF in your paintings.’ His advice broke down many walls inside me. He taught me how to find answers by myself.”
The most difficult decision Kim ever made was to come to the U.S. to study painting while leaving behind everything she had ever known. “It was as if I was being born again. I struggled from labor pains to live a second life. Most of my friends and relatives couldn’t understand me and objected to my decision to leave my job and go to the U.S. at such a late age (53) to study painting. However, I thought that my life experience, which young students don’t have, would enhance and enrich my painting.”
If Kim could meet and spend time with anyone on earth, who would it be? “It would be my Korean friend, Sunny Park. She died from blood cancer a month ago. I still don’t believe it. I talked with her on the phone just a week before she died, not knowing that she would be dying within a few days. She was the only person who supported me when I talked about going to the U.S. to study painting. Her support was stronger than the hundreds of objections I faced.
“We were the best of friends. Whenever I consulted her about various things, her answers seemed to reveal my own subconscious mind. This made me confident about my decision. She was a mirror of my future self. She was 10 years older than I, so whenever I saw her, I imagined myself at her age.
“Today, if I could still spend a day with her, I would be consulting her about what I should do next, having achieved my dream of going to the U.S. to study painting. And we would continue to discuss the meaning of life itself. Now, she is in my heart, and I have heard her answer: ‘Just follow your heart. Enjoy your self. The most important moment is NOW HERE!’”
More information about the exhibit at www.clarapainting.com or www.chestnuthillpres.org/center-on-the-hill.