August 19, 2022
We could not be more pleased to share our interview with Brooklyn-based artist Justin Yoon. Justin’s dreamy, Hollywood-inspired paintings showcase three characters Blue Dream (a muscle-man), Marge (a glamorous brunette beauty), and Fivepoundz (a shih-tzu), in platonically romantic scenes.
Q: Could you tell us a little more about your background and journey as an artist? Did you always know you wanted to be one?
A: I always loved drawing, and I always loved paintings, comics, manga, animations, and anything visual. Ever since I can remember I was drawing with my older brother, (who is also very talented in drawing) and my mom always encouraged us to express ourselves freely, and to be artistic as she was also an artistic person who had a keen eye for aesthetics. I never stopped drawing, and started painting at the end of middle school, and never stopped that as well. It is kind of like a second nature to me to paint, as it makes me feel like myself whenever I do it. I always knew I wanted to be a creative person, something between a narrative artist or a painter, but also being a realist, I never obsessed over the idea of being a successful artist - I just kept painting because I had to, as that is who I am.
Q: Tell me more about the recurring characters in your paintings: Blue Dream, Marge, and Fivepoundz.
A: Marge, Bluedream, and Fivepoundz are all a metaphor or symbols for myself, everyone I met in my life, everyone I've seen through the screens and books in my life, or any emotions I am trying to capture. They are ambiguous beings that can be anybody's closest friend, or anyone themselves. Growing up I always yearned to see a sensual, ultra masc. and fem queer depiction of glamorous Asian figures, without the context of it being erotica or fetishized, and realized there was a big lack of it - Thus wanting to accomplish this dreamy world of exaggerated, glamorous, campy Queer Asian figures, I created the three, including the completely asexual Fivepoundz as well to show the opposite end as well; He is still very campy though with his bright pink fur. I wanted to create a group of characters that are all Asian, and extremely sexy and sensual, yet not threatening neither alienating- I wanted them to look like your friend; I always yearn for that familiar feeling when you reunite with your old friends, or when you watch your old shows and see your familiar faces. All these ideas are jumbled into these 3 characters to capture a certain nostalgic, platonically romantic, casual feeling that is universal.
Q: Are there specific themes you return to in your art? If so, what are they and do you know why?
A: I always call my art as a forever continuing, never ending high school reunion. As mentioned above, the three characters recurring over and over like a continuing tv show or a movie, makes it a long graphic novel-like series that I will continue forever. However you see it, they are always there and you can always go back to them, giving the viewer that feeling of deeply personal nostalgia, or a sentimental mundane memory- a moment in life that is forever gone but never forgotten, as we all are the sum of all the moments of our lives. Oftentimes we only tend to capture big dramatic emotional moments in life, or a big turning point- but I think the real important moments are the quiet, somewhat meaningless, non-serious milestones like catching up with friends randomly, having a beer at the deck, watching tv. All these small moments pile up and become something so romantic and grand to me, I wanted to exaggerate that and make it glamorous, campy, and sensual as well to heighten the romance of those platonic memories. My work is never about Lovers, or sexual intimacy- it is about platonic romantic intimacy between friends, family or whoever. These things are often not portrayed in a grand glamorous way, and I want to always capture that subtle moment that we all experience, and cherish- So deeply personal, yet extremely universal.
Q: Where do you find inspiration?
A: I find a lot of inspiration from Movies, Narrative works whether it be a novel, graphic novels, or even tv shows. Music also has a big influence on me, as my dad was a very musical person, and he played a lot of great music for me which was very formative- especially his love for Jazz was passed down on to me in a big way. Late night car drives in our family car listening to jazz was a big formative moment in my life- also staying up late to watch old Hollywood movies was incredibly influential as well. My biggest influence is Richard Linklater, and his movies "Dazed and Confused" and "Before Sunset". The way he captures the deeply personal mundane moment in one's life in such a romantic way with no pretense was a greatly formative moment for me. Also coming of age moments, such as movies like Adventureland, or tv shows like That '70s show was a big part of me growing up- mashing all of this with the old Hollywood movie's glossy plastic glamour created this odd Sims (Video game which was also a very big part of my life)-like Americana of glamorizing mundane moments in life, that is somewhat coming of age.
Q: What do you listen to when you’re working / in the studio?
A: I listen to a lot of different things- mainly a lot of Jazz. Clifford Brown, Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan, Charles Mingus, Tommy Dorsey, Nat King Cole, Nina Simone, Erroll Garner, etc. But also I listen to a lot of different genres as well, ranging from classic and indie rock to folk and old school soul music. I also deeply love '60s and '70s show tunes- Classic musical tunes have been a big part of my life as well. Lately I have been deeply influenced by Sondheim and his music, especially "Merrily we roll along". The themes on that record and the melody of it all is so relevant to my work. especially it being about moments that are gone and will never come back. I also love Chopin, Liszt a lot, especially when I am working.
Justin Yoon (b. 1991, Los Angeles, California) is a Brooklyn based painter. Early childhood memories of American junk food, late night old Hollywood movies on the TV, and listening to jazz in the car with his family on long drives significantly affected him to create a world of romantic melancholia, synthetic colors, and casual lostness of being. With no specific emotions provoked, the group of characters reoccur over and over in a deeply synthetic yet ambiguous dream-like landscape, continuing on this never ending "Highschool Reunion". The viewer becomes a part of this experience, which is vaguely both universal yet deeply personal. Justin holds a B.F.A in Illustration from Parsons School for Design, NY. His work has been exhibited at Anat Ebgi Gallery, Taymour Grahne Projects, Museum of Sex, Shelter Gallery, Hannah Traore Gallery, Governors Island Art Fair, Felix Art fair, and more. Upcoming shows include a Solo show with Mindy Solomon Gallery (Miami, FL), Group show with Taymour Grahne in 2023 (London, UK), Group with Hashimoto Gallery (LA, CA) and more. Justin's work has been published in Math Magazine, Lezs Magazine, and more.
Fierce Embrace, oil on handmade paper.
A Tempting Taste on the Tip of Your Tongue, oil on handmade paper.
Q: I would love to hear how your practice came about and your interest in Italian frescos.
A: My interest in Italian frescoes began during my time in Florence after being awarded the RSA John Kinross scholarship in 2017. I initially focused on the exterior of the Renaissance buildings, endlessly wandering the city and visiting every church I came across. After that my interest turned to the architecture and objects in frescoes painted on the church walls.
Q: What concepts/themes are you exploring in your practice?
A: What first drew me to medieval frescos was their disproportionate buildings and unrealistic perspective. The figures take center stage and so the depictions of domestic dwellings and the tops of grand palaces appear squashed to fit their designated space. I want to continue to play around with proportions and push them into further surreality.
Weaving in the Warmth of a Summer Night's Breeze, oil on handmade paper.
She sang and the rest was silent, oil on handmade paper.
Drenched in Tuscan Sunbeams, oil on handmade paper.
Q: Are the cities you paint real? Fictional? Somewhere within reach?
A: Most of my pieces are loosely based on frescos I’ve seen in Florence and Siena - some of which contain medieval buildings and landmarks that are still in existence today. My interpretations of them are fictional to make them my own. My paintings are fragments stripped of human life and focus instead on the uninhabited spaces and artifacts of life once lived. I have started to introduce more elements of movement to the buildings to reflect the strong narratives that the original frescos illustrate.
Q: When did you begin creating on handmade paper? Do you make it yourself or source it?
A: I started during 2020 when I no longer had access to a studio and had to make work at home. It was a good opportunity to rethink the materials I use in my practice and I tested out a few different surfaces before settling on handmade paper. I start by pulping torn newspaper with water, draining and then drying it in unconventional shapes to resemble preserved sections of fresco. The surface of the paper is pocked, catching previous layers of paint to give the appearance of a weathered plaster wall.
Megan Rea (B.1993, UK) is a British artist whose practice celebrates fictitious cityscapes in medieval Italian frescoes by reimagining them as architectural fragments. Inspired by Giotto and Fra Angelico, the buildings stretch, weave and buckle, taking on the characteristics of their animated figures and disproportionate forms. Painting onto a porous, uneven surface of paper pulp created entirely from newsprint, allows Megan to expose previously hidden layers of oil paint amongst the structured shapes of the completed pieces. Megan lives and works in London, UK.