Starring: Marge, Blue Dream & Fivepoundz
Following a studio visit in NYC back in November last year, we check in with Brooklyn-based artist Justin Yoon who we have the great pleasure of working with in our next curatorial project; 'You Were Bigger than the Sky, You Were More than Just a Short Time' opening at Belenius Gallery in Stockholm on March 16.
C-P: Hello Justin, I am very excited to be working with you in our upcoming group exhibition at Belenius in Stockholm. Before we dive into your work, tell me a little about your background? If I recall, you were born in the U.S, moved to South Korea at a young age and then moved back to attend Parsons School of Design?
J.Y: Yes, I was born in LA, was raised there for a bit, and then moved to Korea when I was around 6. I grew up there in Bundang, near Seoul until I was 18, and then moved to New York around 2010 to attend Parsons. Been here ever since.
C-P: When we met back in November in NYC in your beautiful studio/home in Brooklyn, it’s evident that your work has evolved since art school. Would you like to share some words about the current direction of your practice and the three recurring characters; Blue Dream, a handsome bodybuilder, Marge, a glamorous brunette, and Fivepoundz, a shih-tzu?
J.Y: It was a natural evolution for me; I always thought I wanted to work on something with a narrative, but I wasn’t sure how to approach it for some time. I was heavily influenced by movies, books, and even TV shows growing up, and as I lived my life and had experiences everything start to slowly come together. There was something so natural and human about creating a somewhat fictional narrative with all the moments and little things that made you who you are in life. I wanted to use that way of thinking to apply to my works. I think everyone can relate to the personal things when it is presented in a universal way, and for me that was like a movie, a comic book, or a TV show. I wanted to follow a group of friends who are made out of all the moments and feelings in my life, and follow them around for seasons and sequels to come. That is how I ended up with the trio, Marge, Blue Dream and Fivepoundz. I think I still have a lot more episodes and stories and feelings to tell with them.
C.P: There’s this very cemented idea that NYC is very cut-throat, especially in the arts and as an aspiring artist. Having lived in the city for some years now, how are you coping?
J.Y: I do think New York is intense when it comes to any fields of work, especially in the creative area. My way of coping with this city is to not think too much about how I come off to others, or aim something specific so much, I just love being here and living in the city. I love the way it feels, looks and talks to me, regardless of how cut-throat it is. To me, New York is actually a really warm and nostalgic city deep inside.
C.P: When I initially discussed your work with Katarina Sjögren, the director of the Belenius, we both picked up on 80’s vibes (the palette!) but when you and I later spoke, you were quick to point out that you were not particularly fond of the 80’ (at all) but lean towards the 50’s and 70’s. For me personally, being born in the mid 80’s, it’s a decade I evidently didn’t get to experience so there’s a bit of nostalgic shimmer to it. What’s your rapport with the 50’s and the 70’s?
J.Y: What you mentioned here about the nostalgic shimmer is very similar to how I feel about the 70's and the 50's. I was born in the beginning of the 90's, and some of the older decades felt like pure nostalgic fantasy to me, especially since my experience of them were through books, old Hollywood movies, music, and TV. Nostalgia is kind of like the same with these imagined experiences to me as they are distant moments that you can only idealize by revisiting through your memories, but never be able to physically experience. This idea of having a nostalgic yearning towards a time you didn’t experience is very romantic to me, and I think often times it blurs the line between my own memories and my nostalgic feeling towards them as well. Many movies and music from the 50's and the 70's, or even creations made later but based on that time had a big impact on me when I first came upon them growing up, and it stayed with me as a visual cue to romanticism and universal nostalgia.
C-P: You’ve exhibited quite a lot recently with solo exhibitions at Anat Ebgi in L.A and more recently at Mindy Solomon in Miami. How has the experience of working with these gallerists been for you?
J.Y: Both were great! Everyone at Anat Ebgi were very sweet and welcoming, and I had a warm experience that made me miss LA in a more in a nostalgia light. Mindy is one of the kindest, most interesting people I met and I loved working with her gallery as well. She was so caring and warm and made my visit to Miami a memorable one as well.
C-P: I read somewhere that your biggest source of inspiration is Richard Linklater, the director of one my all-time favorite films ‘Before Sunset’. It’s such a gem of a film; the dialogue is so on point. Tell me a little about what draws you to his films.
J.Y: My all-time favorite movie is ‘Before Sunset’ as well. I hold a very special place in my heart for this film, as ever since I first watched it years ago back in high school, I never stopped re-watching it. I read the script many times, and even listened to the movie’s audio whenever I felt down or lost. The feeling of lost moments, nostalgic yearning towards something that is gone, with the casual light air of keeping each other company with the late warm afternoon lights, dictated a lot of the soul of my works. The most important quote to me that inspired me so much is from Celine where she says “That time, that moment in time that is forever gone”. Also, his other movie 'Dazed and Confused' was a big influence on me as well.
C-P: On that note, what are some other artists that inspire your own work?
J.Y: I was inspired a lot by Sofia Coppola’s early works, especially ‘Lost in Translation’. Hong Sang Soo’s many films, especially ‘In Another Country’. Jazz musicians such as Bill Evans, Chet Baker, Erroll Garner, Clifford Brown, and many more. Stephen Sondheim’s works, especially ‘Merrily We Roll Along’ and ‘Company’. Wes Anderson’s early work such as ‘Rushmore’. Hopper, Leyendecker, Hope Gangloff, and Elizabeth Peyton have all influenced med as well. Also, graphic novelists such as Adrian Tomine, Chris Ware, and Daniel Clowes.
C-P: Our show is coming up in a few weeks (opens March 16 at Belenius Gallery) and I believe you are also participating in a group exhibition at Taymour Grahne Projects in London around the same time. What else might be coming up for you later in the year?
J.P: Currently I have a solo show coming with Jonathan Carver Moore in San Francisco this fall, and also another solo with Taymour Grahne Projects in early 2024.
For more info about Justin's work, please visit: justinyoon.com
Portrait in the studio
From the studio
'The Premiere' (2022)
'Dream or Mystery' (2022)
'Nine Dresses' (2022)
Installation view: 'Night on the Town', Mindy Solomon Gallery, 2022
Installation view: 'Lunch at Sunset', Anat Ebgi, 2022