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Interview: Siyoung Oh (Yissho)



Longevity

acrylic, tattoo ink, ukiyo-e ink, oil stick, stencil print, burlap, silicone on pigment print on canvas

38 * 94 inches, 2023


1) Could you tell us some things about yourself? Where are you from, and where did you study art? When did you first see yourself as an artist?


My name is Siyoung Oh, also known as Yissho. I work in the interactive form of drawing and tattooing. I majored in fine arts and philosophy at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, Korea. After graduation, I started working on tattooing, studying eastern philosophy at Graduate school for a year. Then last year I obtained my MFA in Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts in New York. When I was a kid, I enjoyed visualizing things like animals, dinosaurs, robots, and other cool-looking stuff by drawing. As I grew up, I developed a liking for drawing especially with focusing on the tempo of lines, enjoying figure croquis. Drawing has always been the most natural thing for me since I was young.


Sparrow and Woman

acrylic, charcoal, tattoo ink on silicone on burlap mounted on wood panel

48 * 36 inches, 2023


2) What is your current work about? If you could explain your latest body of work to someone at an elevator and had 90 seconds to speak in simple terms, what would you say?

I tattoo drawings on a silicone surface. My visual language is revealed through the interaction between tattooing on the manufactured surface and unplanned actions of my body. Through the movement of the needle tip and the up-and-down motion of the tattoo machine, my body's spontaneous movements are 'etched' onto surfaces made of silicone and burlap. In this process, the surface, as an inked epidermis, partially acquires properties of the body. This is my body's active journey towards becoming an image.


I define the relationship between body and the world as one of interaction. In my practice, the body embodies itself as an inexperienced body, a body as an image, through the interaction of this relationship. My newly created body is objectified as something that hasn't been experienced before, and thus, the relationship between myself (body) and the world shifts from subject and object to a relationship between objects.


Through this process of self-objectification, I secure my subjectivity as the most expanded unit of my world, as a collective of objects, ensuring subjectivity as a whole.


Gray Yarn

acrylic, tattoo ink, oil stick on silicone on framed wood panel

33 * 33 inches, 2022


3) How has your work evolved over the years? How do your past works differ from each other, as well as your recent work?


In university, I experimented with a couple of forms of art, including painting and installations that combined plants and artificial elements. Subsequently, while striving to overcome the repetitive and content-centered nature of my work, I drew inspiration from the works of Ukiyo-e and Georg Baselitz. From 2020 to 2021, I delved into Tibetan Buddhism and the religious art of the western Middle Ages, creating paintings that combined modified frames and needlework, deepening my interest in the medium of my work.


In my works from 2022 to 2023, I repeatedly engaged in intuitive observation and recalling processes, layering multiple drawings on a silicone surface. The random movements of my body, along with the interaction of a tattoo machine and the silicone surface, created meaningless marks that, through my observation, gained coherence as specific events, figures, or animalistic images. Throughout this process, I overlaid various images of memories in a still uncertain state, leaving their potential for reenactment open through controlled depiction.


The silicone referred to as both epidermis and canvas in <Reflection>, <Gray Yarn>, and <Longevity> displayed either solid or marbled jade tones. I focused on the effect created by the interaction between this jade-colored surface and the tattooed black dot-lines on top. In <Circulation> and <Sparrow and Woman>, a sculptural effect emerged as silicone seeped through the fabric interstices of burlap. I found interest in the jade-like surface and textural aspects such as bumps resulting from the interaction of these mediums, which inspired my upcoming project, Sculptural-drawing.


<Longevity> is a work that reproduces the screen ratio of a 19th-century Korean (Joseon) Ten Longevity Symbols folding screen, and for this, I worked by overlaying additional mediums such as silicone and burlap onto a canvas printed with the Ten Longevity Symbols folding screen image, measuring 38" x 94". Drawing inspiration from random patterns revealed on the marbled silicone surface, created by mixing pigments like graphite, cobalt nickel green, and zinc white, I selectively represented memories through tattooing. Sheila Pepe, an artist I admire, referred to this process as a "surrealistic game." Following the 2022 work "Byung-Poong," "Longevity" serves as a second homage to the folding screen.


I am interested not only in the image in folding screens but also in the construction methods of hinges, lacquering, and other elements of the frame, as well as the properties of the object. I plan to incorporate some elements of folding screens into the framing of my upcoming practice.


Reflection

acrylic, tattoo ink, oil stick, burlap on silicone on canvas

60*48 inches, 2022


4) How have your life events affected your work and your interests as an artist? How did you sublimate and transcend the difficulties and challenges that you encountered within your work? Has your art been a source of refuge for you, as well as healing and strengthening for your body, mind, and soul?


My work is inherently derived from experience, and I aspire for it to resonate with life's essence. When faced with adversity, I strive to objectify myself, solidifying my direction and beliefs. From this effort emerges a persistence to overcome challenges, leading to transformative changes. I try to apply the same perspective to the process of my work. For several years now, my drawing practice has become a form of meditation, nurturing my mind and soul.


Grandma Jar

acrylic, tattoo ink, silicone on panel

12*12 inches, 2023


5) You studied the Tibetan Buddhist texts on the process of death and the afterlife, and you are also familiar with the concept of the near-death experience, in which a person briefly encounters a divine being of light at the end of a dark tunnel. What do you think about the nature of consciousness? Is there such a thing as a soul or a spirit? Or is consciousness an illusion of a mechanical brain awash in chemical and electrical processes? Also, do you distinguish between consciousness and the spirit? Or do you think they are one and the same? Are any of these spiritual or religious views embedded in your works?


When contemplating consciousness, it seems to reside both in the brain or feels like a form of energy. My recollection from a near-death experience in childhood was not of a dark tunnel but rather a strong will within my body and mind, desiring to live. Therefore, the essence of consciousness, to me, lies in willpower. My will can be expressed as a form of 'movement,' and movement exists along with time, or spacetime. Spacetime came into existence simultaneously with my existence, from the moment I observed it. Thus, consciousness, to me, signifies first-person will as an individual entity and simultaneously as the unique spacetime born alongside me, representing the world, or what I would call third-person will. I apply this notion in my practice by representing the images of my three-dimensional memories onto a one-dimensional surface, thereby observing myself and objectifying my existence.


Circulation (front)

acrylic, charcoal, graphite pencil, tattoo ink on silicone on burlap

36*48 inches, 2023


6) Western philosophers traditionally valued the soul, or the core, to the body and its surface, but Friedrich Nietschze argued the contrary, that the body could also be an important location for the manifestation of the will. Michele Foucault then argued that the body is where political powers inscribe events on the surface (of the body), while the soul is a "prison of the body," due to the Judeo-Christian belief in rewarding and punishing individuals for their good deeds and sins. (Foucault may very well have been referencing tattooing as a marker of criminality for gang members, as well as power for the nobility - as in England in the 17th or the 18th centuries.) Do you deal with these ideas in your work as well, where the paintings become a kind of a body where you unknowingly inscribe the gestures, traces, and marks of past events and experiences as conscious and unconscious memories?


In my practice, drawing based on the spontaneous movement of the body assumes a central role, asserting the inherently movement-based nature of consciousness. Within my body, specific thought/behavior patterns formed from genetic predispositions and acquired experiences are inherent, interacting with societal norms, control, education, etc. I view scars or tattoos on my body as outputs of this interaction. I visualize and observe the specific behavioral patterns inherent within me, namely random movements, in my practice, which can be considered an output of the interaction between my body and consciousness.


Circulation(back)

acrylic, charcoal, graphite pencil, tattoo ink on silicone on burlap

36*48 inches, 2023


7) It is evident that the surface of the body is important to you and your art because you are an artist who engages in the practice of tattooing. How about the core, the soul, or the consciousness? In the context of the mind-body problem, do you agree that the mind affects the body, and the body affects the mind? How do tattoos and their inscription on the surface of the body affect your mind that resides within the physical body? Does tattooing have a meditative quality in its process, and how is this reflected in your art visually and process-wise?


As mentioned earlier, my work is an activity that showcases the reciprocal influence between

mind and body. Engaging in my drawing process, which elicits unconscious movements of

the body, involves a form of meditation. While tattooing on a person may differ from my

drawing practices methodologically, they share a context in emptying the mind during the

process and focusing on the movement itself. Furthermore, in my works, I progressed by

resonating with the randomness generated by the interaction between the movement of the

tattoo machine and the body.


Horse

acrylic, tattoo ink, silicone, Second Skin on canvas

48*36 inches, 2023


8) Tattoos are illegal in South Korea, where you originate from. Is there any opportunity for

your paintings, which involve tattoo and silicone on burlap, to challenge the very political or

social powers that make inscription of events on the body and regulate it, thereby controlling

the populace? Do you feel that you as a person (wearing tattoo) and an artist (making art

with tattoo) is more "alive' and "free" in some ways than everyone else, even as they may

perceive you with a sense of criminality because you defied the state by pursuing tattoo as a

part of your personal image and artistic identity?


The societal perception of tattoos is beyond my control. To attain freedom from how people

perceive me, I strive to clarify what "I" am and establish my own moral and aesthetic

standards. However, I would be pleased if my tattoo-drawing works, as one form of art,

contribute to establishing tattoo culture in Korea if they contribute to the art form.


Texture Drawing

tattoo ink, charcoal, silicone on polyester

24" x 24", 2023


9) Historical Japanese artists, such as Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Kuniyoshi, have

immensely affected you in your earlier art, and they continue to influence you to this day. As

a contemporary Korean artist, how do you internalize and process the influences of historical

Japanese art to create something uniquely yours, with a Korean twist? How do you see the

cultures and histories of Korea and Japan merging and interacting with one another in the

past and the present? And how do you want to convey this connection through your art?


Studying tattoos led me to explore Japanese art, particularly irezumi and ukiyo-e, which

have significantly influenced my creative process. This influence extends beyond aesthetics

to the use of the tattoo machine. Korea and Japan, as neighboring countries separated by

the East Sea, have a history of cultural exchange and conflict. My work aims to reveal

experiences acquired in life, and the elements of Japanese art present in my work signify

one of the many cultural references ingrained in me through experience. Other cultural references outside of Japan include the United States, where I currently reside, as well as Germany, ancient Egypt, and more. I don't consciously plan specific cultural connections in

my creative process. Instead, as I contemplate areas to improve to meet my aesthetic

standards based on the output of my movements, various cultural references start to

emerge. I enjoy combining them appropriately to create images that evoke experiences yet

to be encountered.


Dot Movement (Black)

tattoo ink on paper

38" x 50", 2024


10) Who are some of your other favorite artists - contemporary, modern, and pre-modern?

How have they influenced you and impacted you as an artist? Who are some of your favorite

tattoo artists?


I have many favorite artists. When I was young, my father bought me a huge book containing drawings by Leonardo da Vinci, and I was fascinated by it for a long time. I also admire the works of Peter Doig, Anselm Kiefer, and Baselitz. Additionally, I draw much inspiration from the work of contemporary sculptor Yee Soo-kyung. I also received much influence from George Condo's drawing process. As a tattoo artist, I learned the most from the works of Horiyoshi the 3rd, Horiyasu, and Horihide, as well as Nisako, and Sunghwan Kim from whom I learned tattooing.


20?.?.E04

oil on nylon, bubble wrap on framed wood panel, tattoo needle

22*18.5*1.9 inches, 2020


11) What are the main goals that you would like to achieve in the next five years? How do

you see tattoos as art and a conceptual framework becoming more hip and cool, opening

new frontiers or directions in contemporary art?


I plan to expand my tattoo-drawing practice into sculptural-drawing. To achieve this, I intend

to study Korean celadon pottery, jade carving, and traditional lacquerware, and integrate

them with applicable mediums and tattooing techniques. Afterwards, I aspire to work in

Europe. Rather than hoping for tattoos to open new horizons in contemporary art, I aim to do

what feels most authentic to myself. If this contributes to society, it would be a gratifying outcome.



Untitled, 2022

Wood, soil, resin, pigment print on Canvas, Stainless needle

17.9 17.9 0.5 inch

 

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