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In Conversation: Ana Kim, Unraveling Surrealism and Advocating Environmental Consciousness


In this interview, we delve into Ana Kim's artistic journey, exploring her unique fusion of the surreal and the real. With influences from contemporary media, a commitment to environmental issues, and a bold color palette reflecting strength and independence, Ana's work invites viewers to reconsider their perceptions of the world around them, prompting conversation and change. Join us as we reveal the creative process and passion behind Ana's extraordinary art, as she continually challenges norms and seeks to preserve our fragile ecosystems.


Born in 1995 in South Korea, Ana Kim is a distinguished artist who earned her BFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2018. Currently working in Chicago, IL, she maintains studios in Seoul and Chicago. With a global presence, her art has been showcased not only in South Korea and the United States but also in France, Germany, Japan, and England. Ana has participated in numerous art projects, including collaborations with the Korean government, residencies, and publications.

"Shaping the extraordinary" is a theme that I, as an artist, aim to create. The norms and perceptions of the current world create boundaries in people’s minds. By placing animals and nature within my paintings, I seek to use my visual voice to convey my genre with no boundaries. The subjects on my canvas do not correlate with normal ecosystems, food chains, or habitats and sit with abstractive flows of colors. My work mainly strives to address environmental and societal issues. By arranging my subjects, I question: what is the norm, and who defines it? As a contemporary surrealist painter, I create art that disregards—that violates—expectations and is demarcated from vague notions of reality.

Window_2.4_Tiger, Acrylic on Canvas, 36 W x 48 H x 1.5 D in, 2023


Q: Can you tell us more about your journey as an artist and how you developed your unique style of contemporary surrealism?

As a Korean-born artist residing in the United States, I've dedicated my artistic career to exploring themes of individuality and cultural integration through the medium of painting. Initially, I experimented with various subjects and techniques before ultimately settling on animals as my primary focus. I found that I could communicate more effectively with my audience using these creatures as vehicles for my message. As my art evolved, I delved deeper into the study of animal anatomy and behavior, further refining my skills and expanding my knowledge. This led to the development of my unique style of contemporary surrealism, characterized by the seamless fusion of animals with their natural settings.


Q: How do you select the animals and natural elements you include in your paintings? Are there specific reasons behind your choices?

In my paintings, I predominantly feature endangered species in conjunction with natural environments that do not correspond with their native habitats. This is an intentional choice to raise awareness about the critical state of animal and environmental conservation. Human activity has caused significant disruption to natural habitats, leaving many species without homes and pushing them to the brink of extinction. This crisis threatens not only the lives of animals but also humanity itself. As evidenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, the loss of biodiversity can have serious consequences for our health and wellbeing. Scientists have hypothesized that the pandemic was facilitated by the destruction of natural habitats for animals and a decrease in biodiversity, leading to the transmission of the virus from animals to humans. Through my art, I aim to highlight the urgency of this issue and encourage viewers to take action in preserving the natural world.


Window_2.0_Rhino, Acrylic on Canvas, 36 W x 48 H x 1.5 D in, 2023


Q: How do you manage to balance the juxtaposition of reality, utopia, and future in your paintings? What message do you aim to convey through this approach?

My canvas is a place where reality, utopia, and the future intersect. Through my art, I bring the natural world to life on canvas, depicting the lives of animals and the beauty of nature as they exist in reality. However, I also juxtapose these elements to create a utopian vision where the world exists in perfect harmony. Through this vision, I hope to inspire viewers to imagine a better future, one where we prioritize the protection of our planet and all its inhabitants. By portraying the delicate balance between humanity and the natural world, and the dire consequences of disrupting that balance, I aim to impart a message of conservation and environmental stewardship. Ultimately, my art serves as a powerful tool for raising awareness and inspiring action toward the preservation of our planet's fragile ecosystems and endangered species.


Q: Can you discuss the importance of your bold color palette, and how it represents strength and independence in your work?

My color palette is an essential element of my artistic style. I meticulously combine paints from various manufacturers to create a vivid, saturated color that I then apply to my canvas with bold brushstrokes. Through this technique, I aim to convey not only the essence of the natural world but also my own personality and emotions. My strong color choices reflect the intensity of my personal vision, while my brushstrokes convey a sense of movement and energy. This approach results in a unique and striking visual style that captures the eye and engages the viewer. Ultimately, it is through the interplay of color and form that I am able to convey my message of environmental conservation and inspire others to take action in preserving our planet's delicate ecosystems.


Q: As an artist, how do you view your responsibility to provoke conversation, inspire change, and encourage action toward addressing environmental and societal problems?

As an artist, I believe that my work should not only be aesthetically pleasing but also serve a greater purpose. Art has the power to connect with viewers on a deep and emotional level, and it is through this connection that I aim to promote awareness of environmental issues and inspire positive change. Through my art, I strive to convey a message of conservation and the need for humanity to prioritize the protection of our planet and its inhabitants. I view my work not just as a creative outlet but as a tool for social development and progress. By using my unique artistic style to address critical environmental issues, I hope to create a positive impact in the world and inspire viewers to take action towards creating a better future.


Window_2.1_White Tiger, Acrylic on Canvas, 20 W x 16 H x 1.5 D in, 2023


Q: What do you believe is the most significant environmental or societal issue that your art addresses, and why? And how do you ensure that your art effectively communicates the social issues you aim to address?

The most significant issue that I am addressing through my art is the extinction of animals and the need for conservation. I also aim to raise awareness of the impact of human activity on the natural world and the critical need to protect and preserve our planet's ecosystems.


Additionally, I focus on why this situation is happening and how it will impact human lives. To ensure that my art effectively communicates the social issues I aim to address, I strive to create visually compelling and engaging pieces that capture the viewer's attention and draw them in.


Furthermore, I incorporate symbolism and juxtaposition in my paintings to create a thought-provoking message. Ultimately, I believe that it is through a combination of these techniques that I am able to effectively communicate my message of environmental conservation and inspire viewers to take action towards a better future.

Q: How do you find inspiration for your paintings, and how do contemporary media and current events influence your work?

My sources of inspiration come from various contemporary media, including news articles about the environment and human health, documentaries about animals and history, and interviews with animal researchers. With abundant information available at our fingertips in this world, I make myself stay informed and get more inspiration by researching, listening, reading, and viewing topics that interest me. By doing so, I am able to draw inspiration and incorporate meaningful messages into my artwork.


Q: How do you hope viewers will interpret and engage with your artwork, particularly given the different cultural and personal experiences they may bring to their interpretations?

My primary hope is that my viewers will take the time to consider the animals depicted in my paintings. For example, many people may not distinguish between different big cat species, such as leopards, jaguars, and cheetahs, or may be unaware that some types of rhinoceros are already extinct. I am also fascinated by the different cultural backgrounds and interpretations that viewers bring to my work, and I love hearing their personal stories and perspectives on the animals I paint. Ultimately, I see my art as a tool for communication, both between myself and the viewer, and among viewers themselves. By sparking conversation and thinking about these important issues, I believe that my art can play a small part in creating a more connected and empathetic world.


Q: How has your art evolved over time, and what new perspectives or techniques have you incorporated into your work?

Over the past few years, I have been exploring various techniques to bring my subjects together on a single surface in a way that is both visually engaging and thought-provoking. My past goals include minimizing the background from nature, focusing on highlighting the colors and unique features of the animals I am depicting, incorporating other human-created subjects, and experimenting with different ways to display my canvases. Currently, I am working on a series that combines all of my past attempts in a single work, creating a cohesive body of work that captures my artistic vision and aims to inspire viewers to think more deeply about the issues I address.


Q: What future projects or themes do you have in mind for your artwork, and how do you plan to continue addressing environmental and societal issues through your art?

As I look toward future projects, I am exploring new mediums that can complement and enhance my paintings, specifically threads, and yarns. I am also considering incorporating research documents into my artwork to provide viewers with more information about environmental issues and inspire action toward a better future. By combining different mediums and information, I hope to create a more dynamic and impactful artistic experience that engages viewers and encourages them to take action.


Window_2.0_Jaguar, Acrylic on Canvas, 30 W x 40 H x 1.5 D in, 2023


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