On a spring day in 2021, in a huge and high-ceilinged space that used to be a clothing store in Pasadena’s Paseo mall, artist Joanne Kim (BFA 18 Illustration) gives a tour of her pencil drawings and paintings—colorful interpretations of memories—stretched along a wall. On the opposite wall are portraits by her painter boyfriend Sung Jik (Francis) Yang (BFA 18 Illustration).
Their shared art studio is a testament to creativity during the pandemic. The couple started using the space in September 2020, after sharing a smaller work space in downtown Los Angeles. “We were lucky,” says Kim, fully vaccinated and wearing a white face mask. She exhibited work virtually in 2020 at Glendale’s Brand Library and Art Center and in person in 2021, for an exhibition with Yang titled Between Us, at Joshua Tree’s HeyThere Projects.
It’s rewarding to capture how I felt during a moment in my life, and make people feel the same feeling.Joanne KimArtist and Illustration alumna
Born in Seoul, Kim loved sewing, drawing and cutting up old clothes as a 7-year-old. When she was 10, she and her sister and parents moved to the U.S. and settled in Arcadia. She later planned to study fashion design. “When I started making a portfolio to go to fashion school, I fell in love even more with drawing and painting, and that’s how I became interested in ArtCenter,” she says. “In my Korean community, it was always seen as a prestigious school.”
As a student in the Illustration program, Kim focused on using colored pencils. Inspired by an assignment in a children’s book publishing course taught by Associate Professors Esther Pearl Watson (BFA 95) and Mark Todd (BFA 93), Kim started drawing about her memories and childhood in South Korea. “I feel nostalgic a lot,” she says. “After I moved to the U.S., I didn’t get to go back to Seoul. I planned on going recently, and then COVID-19 happened.”
Her 2018 personal piece Hometown is a snapshot of the Seoul of her childhood, featuring busy streets lined with blue-roofed houses and kids playing outside. In Seoul, Kim went to school and stayed at home during the week, while her parents were busy working. On the weekends her parents took her and her sister to their maternal grandparents’ farm outside the city. “There’s a lot of kids, grandmas and grandpas in my pieces,” says Kim, who found out later that on those weekend, her parents had been helping her other grandma, her father’s mom, who had cancer.
In her 2018 piece Kids and Their Dogs, children run gleefully with dogs down a green hillside, next to rows of green vegetables—a depiction of memories Kim has of staying at her grandparents’ farm with her cousin. Her 2020 drawing Evening Visitor depicts alleyways of young couples and older people at night in her grandparents’ town. “It’s rewarding to capture how I felt during a moment in my life, and make people feel the same feeling,” she says.
Her 2020 drawing Eglantine Fleurs, saturated in red, portrays a flower shop she saw during a 2019 trip to Paris. Her 2019 acrylic painting By the Pond, based on a visit to Southern California’s Descanso Gardens, was inspired by artist Matthew Wong, whose work she saw that year at a gallery in New York. “His paintings were filled with blue and were all about his memories,” Kim says of the late artist, who left a profound impact on her. “That became my challenge, to paint more. Paint itself can create so much emotion.”